I hate interviews. I hate interviewing people and I hate being interviewed. It takes a good three or four conversations with someone before I can talk to them without crippling anxiety making me freeze up or say really strange shit; compound that with a professional obligation to impress someone and it’s curtains for me. That’s why the second level of Speaking Simulator really struck a chord with me. If a not-so-cleverly disguised android whose entire face is falling apart by the minute can totally nail an interview with a dudebro CEO, then maybe there’s hope for me yet.
Similar to titles like QWOP, Speaking Sim is a silly and self-aware game that takes a motor function that humans typically perform unconsciously and turns it into a game mechanic. Playing as an android attempting to blend into human society, it’s your job to control the android’s entire mouth and facial functions in order to navigate scripted conversations with humans. I’m sure you (maybe) think about the things you say when you’re saying them, but how often do you think about the movements you make with your mouth and tongue when you say them? How about your eyes? How much of a chore would it be if you had to think about the position of every part of your mouth every time you wanted to make a specific sound?
Spread out over ten stages, your journey as a very real and definitely not robotic human being begins at a simple meal with a co-worker and subsequently chronicles a meteoric rise to power that eventually sees you addressing an entire nation. The challenge in each stage is to play along with the pre-written conversations, matching your mouth, tongue and general facial movements to the dialogue you’re supposed to be saying. It’s not nearly as complicated as it could be – you don’t need an extensive knowledge of articulation or the physiology of the human face, just the ability to follow along with on-screen button prompts in a timely fashion. With tongue firmly in cheek (or is it? You’re in control here), the game’s goal is to provide some light slapstick entertainment in the form of watching your android’s entire face fall apart as your frantic button presses causes it to contort and convulse in extremely unnatural ways.
That’s Speaking Simulator at its best then, when you’re fighting your tongue’s awkward physics as you accidentally knock out most of your teeth and your left eye starts to roll out of position, all while passing a medical examination. The downside is that the game doesn’t have much else to offer beyond that, so when the novelty wears off so does most of the appeal. Speaking Sim occupies a similar space to other ‘simulator’ games about things like goats and surgeons; great for drunk gatherings and loose Twitch streams but not the kind of thing you’d sit down to play over a lazy Saturday afternoon. To the game’s credit, the back-and-forth dialogue in each level is usually fairly funny as well. For the money (a sizeable $28 AUD at time of writing), I really would’ve appreciated something more substantial than what’s on offer – even a dumb, throwaway multiplayer or ‘free-speak’ type mode would’ve given it just a little bit more life.
Which isn’t to say there’s zero depth; finishing a level will net you social experience points which eventually turn into upgrade points. Spending these points allows for a number of upgrades that either add whole new facial controls (which make things more complex but are necessary for progression) or boost your existing abilities. I’m not ashamed to admit that the upgrade screen had me confounded the first time I looked at it and couldn’t figure out how to make it do anything. Speaking Simulator’s interface is a roughshod combination of 2D overlayed and physically present 3D interface elements, the bulk of which might normally be considered ugly, but undoubtedly form part of the game’s charm. I just wish they were a tiny bit more consistent from a use perspective.
Speaking Simulator is exactly the kind of silly, amusing, slapstick romp that you’d expect from the Twitch-friendly parody sim genre. Which is to say, if you get a kick out of playing or watching these things there’s a lot to like here, but it’s also a tad too shallow of an experience to make it a must-play.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher