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Doki-Doki Universe is a deceptively zany journey of self-discovery

On the surface, Doki-Doki Universe is a game about a robot, abandoned by its owner and solving the mundane everyday problems of various alien civilizations. Apparently the robot, model number QT3, comes from a production line that had no understanding of human needs or desires, a mechanical sin punishable by the brutal finality of decommissioning. Yet QT3’s would-be executioner, a three-eyed green saucer-dweller named Alien Jeff, takes pity on the pathetic robot and allows QT3 to prove that it understands humanity by traveling to colorful new worlds and learning from their inhabitants.

Throughout this learning excursion, Doki-Doki Universe watches the decisions you make and builds a personality profile of you, the player. Some of the profiling moments come about naturally—when the citizens of the galaxy make requests or when Alien Jeff asks what you learned on each planet, players can choose to be straightforward, sarcastic, or just mess with everyone’s heads for laughs. Most of the personality testing, though, occurs outside of the main quest, on small asteroids that litter the map. On each of these asteroids, you must answer a handful of questions that ask for your gut reaction to a set of illustrations—you might pick a caption for a scene of a girl yanking her teddy bear away from a tea party or choose one of three ice skating kids to represent how you feel today. While most of the game has QT3 assisting in interpersonal quests, like helping a bodybuilder work up the courage to ask a girl on a date, it is these quiet inquisitive digressions that are directed at the player rather than the robot.

The difference between Doki-Doki Universe and a standard Myers-Briggs test, though, is the awareness of the test-taker. When people know they are being judged on their personality, they tend to skew their responses toward their notion of what the “right” answer is. By stringing its quizzes out across 200 questions in a harmless cartoon adventure, Doki-Doki Universe is more likely to catch people off guard, producing more honest opinions. It also helps that many of the game’s questions are so innocuous that analyzing them for subtext doesn’t really enter into the process. Which of these characters would you rather wear on a T-shirt? Which of these nine hastily-drawn bugs marching in a line feels the most like you in grade school?

These diversions complement the more goal-oriented planets, each of which carries its own environmental theme and lesson about human nature. There is a planet full of talking sushi, a renaissance faire planet with knights and dragons, and a planet made of poop, among others. These realms teach QT3 about such human phenomena as jealousy, pride, and self-worth. The bot learns that friends don’t eat friends, no matter how delicious their wasabi hairstyle looks. The lessons are about as subtle as anything you’d find on Sesame Street, but there are plenty of opportunities for both the player and QT3 to express their own voice, with no “wrong” answers.

The adventure and comedy are both a bit humdrum, but they only serve as window dressing for the game’s true heart. A robot learns what it means to be human, and the players learn more about themselves along the way. Few games involve this much personal reflection, both in and out of playtime. Doki-Doki Universe may start as a story about cartoon wackiness, but it ends as a story about you.

Doki-Doki Universe
Developer: HumaNature Studios
Publisher: HumaNature Studios
Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Price: $15
Rating: E10+