How family-friendly is the arcade shooter really?


Sugar Mess for Meta Quest: How family-friendly is the arcade shooter really?

Image: JollyCo LLC

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Sugar Mess: Let’s Play Jolly Battles not only wants to be an VR arcade shooter, it also intends to be family-friendly. Is it really? We played a test version.

Shooters have been one of the most popular game genres for VR headsets for years and are well represented in the stores of the various platforms. However, the majority of the titles available there are aimed at an adult audience. Whether it’s Arizona Sunshine 2, Sniper Elite VR, Resident Evil 4, Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister or The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners — it’s not uncommon for things to get pretty intense. But even titles such as Onward, Pavlov Shack, Robo Recall: Unplugged and the like ultimately don’t belong in the hands of children.

To fill this gap, Ukrainian developer Jolly Co. will soon be launching the family-friendly and comparatively inexpensive arcade shooter Sugar Mess: Let’s Play Jolly Battles for various VR systems. You can read our impressions of the Quest 2 version from the App Lab below.

How does Sugar Mess: Let’s Play Jolly Battles play?

In Sugar Mess, you take on the role of the Sugar Prince — in keeping with the name. This refers to a gingerbread man who one day builds himself a friendly assistant called Robbie in order to build his dream kingdom together with him. However, as he is not satisfied with the result, he builds himself another, even stronger robo-helper called Robbo. However, he increasingly loses sight of his buddy Robbie as a result. I wonder if this is the reason why one day your castle is attacked by flying cakes?

A cake figure flies towards the player.

The enemies look cute. However, hitting them is sometimes harder than it looks. | Image: JollyCo LLC

Admittedly, the story of Sugar Mess seems rather hastily cobbled together, but it is presented with nice, hand-drawn graphics and the gameplay is simple but solid. Ultimately, the majority of the levels are about eliminating stationary or moving targets armed with various candy cannons.

In the first scenario, for example, you stand at a predetermined position in a place called Candyville and have to shoot cakes flying at you from different directions. Sounds simple, but it’s more challenging than expected, as some of the desserts whizzing through the air are quite fast-moving and change direction quickly. And that’s not all: sometimes they attack you with their own projectiles! The good news is that you can also neutralize these projectiles with precise fire.

However, you only score points for actually eliminating enemies. Small, non-moving enemy types score 250 points. Medium-sized enemies, some of which hurtle through the air, add 500 points to your account, and you get a whopping 1000 points for shooting down big, flying chunks. If you succeed in shooting down several enemies in a row, you also earn combo bonuses.

Quick reloading is king

The fact that your starting weapon — the so-called cream cannon — only has 19 shots makes things even more hectic. Once you run out of bullets, you have to grab the spherical ammunition container in front of you and quickly move it into the weapon’s magazine slot. On the pedestal in front of you, you will also find various special items — if you have collected them beforehand. The green doctor’s case, for example, regenerates your life energy, while the Rocket Booster knocks out several enemies in one hit.

The aim of the rhythm mini-game is to hit circular blocks with two hammers.

The rhythm mini-game requires full concentration and precision. | Image: LollyCo LLC

The game principle is then varied again and again. In level two, for example, you chug through an amusement park in a cart, while enemies buzz in from everywhere. In level three you can do puzzles, in level four you face a boss for the first time and in level five there you face an unexpected rhythm game challenge.

Moderately balanced difficulty level

The developers repeatedly emphasize that Sugar Mess: Let’s Play Jolly Battles is a family game. Thematically, audiovisually and in terms of gameplay, this may be true. For me, however, the predetermined level of difficulty in some passages, especially for kids, is set a little too high — and cannot be adjusted individually.

VR and shooter newcomers in particular are likely to fail several times in the opening level and experience a certain amount of initial frustration. However, as soon as you act more calmly and your reloading gets faster, you will get along much better.

Scene from the fight with the first boss.

The first boss brings out the heavy artillery — and is only vulnerable at very specific points. | Image: LollyCo LLC

The first boss in level four is also quite stubborn. The giant robot not only deals a lot of damage and can only be damaged by hitting the points marked in red, but also heals itself again and again. The trick is to regularly change position and constantly fire at the medi-kit crates that are transported in its direction on a conveyor belt.

But even if you take all these things into account, the battle can easily last ten minutes or more. In other words: In our opinion, the developers should implement more difficulty levels for ideal family-friendliness.

The Achilles heel: Scope

Experienced gamers and VR connoisseurs will less likely be bothered by the balance issues pointed out before. Rather, they will criticize the ultimately quite limited scope. In other words: provided you have the necessary precision, you will have seen every level after one to two hours at most.

At least, there are two more weapons to unlock: the toaster gun and the blender gun. You can also enjoy an entertaining but somewhat tricky arcade game. Not forgetting the hunt for an even better high score.

The toaster cannon has a similar scattering effect to a shotgun.

The toaster gun has a similar scattering effect to a shotgun. | Image: JollyCo LLC

Technically, however, we have few complaints about Sugar Mess. The performance is excellent, and the controls are precise. Texts are available in 23 different languages and — apart from the lorry rides, perhaps — it doesn’t make you feel motion sick either.

Sugar Mess: Let’s Play Jolly Battles is currently available in the Quest Store via App Lab and in the Pico Store for $7.99. There is no full version on Steam yet, but there is a short demo. On PSVR 2, the developers are aiming for a spring release date.

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