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Quadrilateral Cowboy is a game as puzzling as its name. It is set in a weird alternate-history version of 1980. Its main form of gameplay comes from typing computer commands. It stars a woman named Poncho who buys hacking equipment from a cat.
Oh, and it’s a puzzle game, of course.
Yep, the world of Quadrilateral Cowboy is a little hard to fully grasp. It is set in 1980, but in a world where flying motorcycles and Ready Player One-inspired apartment towers are commonplace. But while technology is advanced enough for flying scooters, it apparently isn’t enough to support useful security.
As recent electric engineering high school graduate Poncho, that’s where you come in.
The majority of the gameplay throughout Quadrilateral Cowboy is conveyed through your portable computer, called a deck. When there’s a locked door in the way, you just plonk your deck down and wirelessly hack it open. The hacking is done through various simple commands that you type in. For example, “door6.open” will open door 6. It’s simple enough at first, but it starts to get tricky when you have to run several commands at once.
That’s not all, though. As you progress through the game’s story, you will visit a bike shop (for bikes with wheels, oddly enough). The cat there will sell you new equipment like a remote controlled robot (called the “weever”) and a gun. You will then use this equipment for the next few missions.
The near-constant supply of new toys is kind of fun at first. The way the robot and the gun help you unlock doors is neat. It does, however, also serve to make most of what you learned previously obsolete. Once you get something new, the next missions revolve almost solely on that, only to be replaced by the next new toy.
You learn from the first couple missions how to open doors with your deck. But as soon as you get your weever, all of the locked doors suddenly require that instead. Then you get the gun, which replaces both the weever and the deck. Each new upgrade makes you wonder why spent so much time learning the last one.
And that doesn’t even touch on the deck’s interaction in the first place. The deck (which is also what controls the weever and the gun) is operated by actually typing in commands. It does feel immersive, like you’re an actual hacker badass, but it also feels incredibly slow. It almost feels like a blessing that I don’t have to learn much about the weever, because controlling it through typed-in commands is a chore. It’s not only slow, but it makes typos a possibly big issue, especially when you have to type multiple commands at once.
The gameplay is not all bad, though. While the typing does slow down the pace, solving each puzzle feels orgasmic. For a moment, you really do feel like you’ve become a badass hacker “cowboy.” And each of the new toys you get are genuinely fun to play with. It’s just a shame that you don’t get much time to play with it before it gets outshined by the next one.
Quadrilateral Cowboy’s story is an odd one. It is told entirely non-verbally, relying instead on action and atmosphere. It adds a certain dystopic flavor to the environment, but it would have probably been stronger with dialogue. Outside of the missions, Poncho’s two friends are always working on something. It would have been nice to be able to talk to them or have them talk to each other. There are even “carpool” chapters in between missions where poncho picks one of them up from home. Those moments would have been perfect for some dialogue. As they are, they feel more like a waste of time.
The characters’ motivations are about as clear as a midnight blizzard. We see that they are hackers, and possibly “cowboys” or outlaws of some sort, but why? The objectives in the missions don’t appear to add up to anything specific. So we’re left to assume that Poncho & Co. are just some asshole hacker criminals.
The graphics are about as basic as one might expect from an indie game. The characters are made up of blocks. The character designs are actually pretty cool, especially Poncho’s. There are nice atmospheric moments, particularly when we get a view of the outside. Other than that, Quadrilateral Cowboy doesn’t have much going for it graphically.
The same can be said about the audio, for the most part. All of the music comes from in-game sources, such as record player. That’s a cool touch, but most of the music itself sounds annoyingly scratchy. I found myself turning it off most of the time. The one song I did like was the one that the cat played in the shop.
Quadrilateral Cowboy is a strange mix of a ton of awesome ideas, but not all of it fit together quite right. The setting was cool, but it went too far into the atmosphere and forgot about actually telling a story. The gameplay was cool, but the constant addition of new elements made the old ones feel like a waste of time. Even the name is cool, but even that is a mash-up of two words that don’t correlate to the game itself and sounds more like the name of a band or YouTube channel.