During their college graduation party, two long-time friends Milo and Lola notice something is… off. They’re dead. And after being swept away into the fiery depths of hell, they discover that the only way out is to out-party the devil himself. Awesome.
Night School Studio struck gold in January of 2016 when they released their smartly-written supernatural high school adventure Oxenfree, which I adored (and ranked #6 in my Top 10 Games of 2016 roundup). The narrative successfully blended horror and humor, the music was super rad, and it just had a good look to it that completed the package.
Being such a big fan of Oxenfree, though, made it harder to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t have the greatest time with their brand new title.
Similar to Oxenfree, Afterparty is a 2D adventure game that’ll have you exploring various settings and conversing with people in order to progress the narrative along. Also like their previous game, Afterparty is mostly well-written, chock full of witty banter and fantastic voice work on behalf of the chosen cast. Janina Gavankar slays as the quick-witted, sarcastic Lola and gives veteran Ashley Burch a run for her money (who voices one of hell’s cab drivers, Sam) as the drawing attraction. She’s really gained a lot of ground recently in video games with her starring role in Star Wars: Battlefront II, and I hope to see or hear her more in future releases.
Story-wise, Afterparty is often hilarious as Lola and Milo come to terms with their demise and struggle to pinpoint exactly when or what occurred. They run into some pretty solid characters along the way, like the aforementioned Sam, but with seemingly everyone filling the role of “sarcastic, witty person” it became a bit too samey — which isn’t good for a 5-hour game. The humor didn’t always land, with some of it coming off like a barrage of Twitter shitposts, but when it did it was definitely laugh-out-loud funny.
As with any friendship, Milo and Lola have their own personal struggles and secrets, which are made public to both of them because it’s hell and that’s the point. They’re supposed to be miserable. When they discover that Satan is a gigantic party animal and anyone that can out-drink him can go back to the land of the living, their goal becomes immediately apparent and nothing really changes.
Obviously, there are progression blockers that require you to explore and backtrack in order to converse with the proper NPCs and move everything along. This is Afterparty’s Achilles heel.
There aren’t many sinister denizens to speak with, which makes exploring and backtracking uneventful and excruciatingly boring. Each of the game’s visitable islands is full of buildings, layers, and people, but so much is just left out of reach. For the most part, you’ll arrive at an island, walk around until you find the person you need to speak with, find out you need to go somewhere else, walk back to the cab, and repeat until a major story beat occurs. It’s mindless and disappointing.
The major gameplay element in Afterparty’s elevator pitch is “drinking your way out of hell,” which plays into its dialogue system. Visiting a bar and ordering from a variety of drinks unlocks appropriate, additional dialogue replies (like liquid courage, talking like a rich asshole, or a stoned hippy).
This is presented as a way to overcome puzzles. Early in the game, you need to sneak into a VIP area that’s guarded by a bouncer. After downing your drink of choice, you can use the newly unlocked dialogue prompts to instigate a bar fight and waltz your way in. I was curious to see how it played out throughout the rest of the game, but, like the rest of the gameplay elements, it was mostly disappointing. I basically just picked whatever drink sounded the most interesting and only once throughout the entire game found it necessary to choose one or the other in order to unlock the desired outcome. And it wasn’t even during a conversation.
There is also a handful of mini-games that don’t need to be won to progress, which I actually found refreshing since they weren’t very fun. One is a drinking game that tasks you with stacking glasses up to a set amount. You press a button to chug, then fight against a dragging meter to drop one glass on top of another, with each drink making the next more difficult. If I recall correctly, none of the mini-games have to be won.
While Afterparty does have a pretty good look and an enjoyable soundtrack to accompany the hellish party atmosphere, I ended my 5-hour playthrough wishing it had done more within the world. The characters and story were both mostly enjoyable and I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout, but I was relatively disappointed whenever that wasn’t happening.
The exploration and backtracking plod along and neither is exciting, and the only other activities that break up the witty narrative is a small selection of dull mini-games. Night School Studio definitely has the writing chops to make a compelling adventure game, but Afterparty feels like a giant step back from their previous effort.
I know folks who have thoroughly enjoyed this game, though, so hopefully, you’ll play it for yourself down the line if you’re even remotely curious. It’s currently in Xbox’s Game Pass lineup, which makes it pretty accessible, and clocking in at only five hours makes it a good game to kill a weekend with.
Ultimately, though, it felt like a great idea that’s just poorly executed and suffers from some severe pacing issues.