For an American teen in the mid 90s, disillusioned angst was the order of the day. Whether grunge, goth, punk or some combination thereof, we were pretty unhappy with how uncool the world was according to us. The tone of Mango Protocol’s MechaNika immediately evoked nostalgia of my teen angst, connecting me to the titular character who is on a mission to destroy everything she deems pointless, boring, and not cool.
7-year old Nika is an engineering prodigy with the morbid affinities of Beetlejuice-betrothed Lydia Deetz and the sharp wit of MTV’s Daria. Though Nika is only 7, her story is unapologetically and comically adult. Be warned, following Nika on her absurd adventure you’ll encounter goat fornication, nudie magazine theft, transvestite prostitutes, geriatric homicide, pork-based crucifixion, punk vagabonds, and much more.
Nika’s goal (and yours) is to build the MechaNika, a giant robot version of herself that will destroy all that is not awesome in Nika’s world. That which is not awesome includes her lame gamer brother, her mobile phone-addicted elementary school teacher, and other oddballs she encounters in the world. To build Nika’s robot, you must find combinations of objects with specific purposes such as “doing damage when used as a projectile” or “inflating things to the point of explosion.”
The gameplay mechanic is simple which keeps the focus on Nika’s oddly compelling narrative and solving the individual puzzles. Simply tap around on items and people in each scene to uncover hints and interaction prompts. Use your tools to poach pieces from other objects and be sure to talk to each person several times. You will need the help of almost everyone you encounter and in many cases, you’ll need more information from them after your initial interaction. I particularly appreciated this detail, as it created a strange sense of investment in the community around Nika.
Use Nika’s blueprint as a guide to help you find objects, walk around town, head down to the construction site, take the bus and visit the butcher to collect the destructive and creative elements you’ll need. If you’re stumped on what to do in a scene, give Nika a swig of her “cocoa and cognac” and she’ll get inspiration in the form of a hint for you. Match items from her backpack to the blueprint, collect all of the combinations and you’ll be ready to assemble the MechaNika in Nika’s secret laboratory.
Most of the puzzles were engaging and solutions were cleverly designed. I did find myself stuck a few times and traversing between scenes became tedious during some of the more challenging quests. I spent some time backtracking through scenes and conversations I already had in an attempt to find something I missed. However, dialogue is thoughtfully entertaining and fresh upon revisiting, so it wasn’t too difficult to reinvest.
The endearing synthpop soundtrack keeps the story upbeat and the look marries a kawaii chibi style with sketchy illustrations reminiscent of early aughts Flash animation. It’s clear there is a lot of love in the details of MechaNika. Look out for cameos by the game’s creators, pop culture memes, gamer nods and other nerdy references.
The game is short so this initial installment will entertain you for a couple of days depending on how fast you play. Upon reaching the end of the game, we are told “Get ready. This is just the beginning.” I sincerely look forward to any subsequent installments from Nika and Mango Protocol.
If you’re hating the world so much that you “can’t even,” Nika understands and your adventure with her will certainly help you through. Spend the weekend playing MechaNika and be assured you’ll get back your teen spirit. (Cue Nirvana)