Not many hero’s journey games lean into the journey part occurring from the back seat of a convertible, where you talk about how you had a crush on your best friend while their partner drives, but then, Get in the Car, Loser! isn’t afraid to get awkward, while also gaying up the place with all the style and grace that a 2D game can offer.
Get in the Car, Loser! is an RPG road-trip adventure game in which high schoolers are on a journey to defeat “machine devil cultists” (you know the type) from destroying the world. The game is a 2D mash-up of classic and modern JRPG battle systems with a dash of choice-driven visual novels. It was developed and published by Love Conquers All Games and written by Christine Love, co-creator of Ladykiller in a Bind, hit Steam and Itch.io on September 21, and is free to play.
You play as Sam, a meek goth hottie, roped into a road trip with her friend Grace and Grace’s partner Valentin to defeat the mechanised cultists wreaking havoc in the world. The clock’s ticking, as they must defeat the cultists before they resurrect the Machine Devil that’s been sealed for 1,000 years. Y’know, typical summer gaycation activities.
Get in the Car, Loser! is hella self aware that it’s a video game but doesn’t play it in a way that overstays its welcome. In its early moments, you’re jokingly handheld through basic JRPG mechanics. But just as Sam has the gravity of the road trip thrust upon her, players have their first combat encounter sprung on them. The game explains its turn-based combat system and item upgrade mechanics as you go, but expects you to have at least a cursory familiarity with how RPGs work.
The game’s earliest bits do a great job of throwing both the player and Sam into a scenario they aren’t fully prepared for, and whenever Sam made a remark about how much trouble she was getting into, it would match what I was thinking almost in real time. Very nicely done. The game also has fun poking at how silly JRPG concepts like battle currency, enemy levels, and how to upgrade your equipment would be in the real world, but without talking down.
What I found surprisingly engaging about the game, aside from its fourth-wall-breaking asides and jokey nods to classics like Castlevania and Final Fantasy VII, is the dialogue: Characters will shoot the shit at just about any time (just like in real life!). But more than just flavour, these on-the-road convos let you actively make gameplay decisions. How I navigated the dialogue helped inform how I wanted to roleplay Sam during battles: She could either be a carefree healer supporting her friends from the sidelines, or the jaded mage with a rocky past diving headfirst into the fray. And while everyone’s talking, you can switch highway lanes to decide how much of a challenge you want from the next combat encounter.
Sometimes dialogue options are innocuous, like responding to a random outburst from Grace, or more revealing, as when deciding the backstory you want Sam to have. Often, the latter moments reveal not only how Sam views her relationship with Grace, but how she views herself. The game goes to surprisingly emotionally resonant places despite its lighthearted veneer.
Even if you’re getting your arse kicked, the game has a gentle way of giving you options to fight another day. I attempted to hoard all the gas points I’d earned, but then was frugal about spending any once I reached the item shop. I thought I might need it later, right? The game actually anticipates this common JRPG player affliction, and encouraged me to get over it. But like a fool, I persisted in my spendthrift ways, only to promptly run into an enemy with dreaded roman numerals by its name, indicating that I was about to get my shit rocked.
Luckily, Get in the Car, Loser! allows you to abandon encounters without any penalty aside from a hilarious post-battle summary showing that you did indeed dip out of that fight. Heck, even the act of abandoning a fight is pretty dope. When you decide to nope out of a battle, the screen throws a slight glitch effect and a record scratch distorts the battle music and slows its time signature.
I respect the game’s commitment to fostering deeper conversations amongst the barrage of jokey memes and JRPG monster-killing. Even when combat encounters interrupt the dialogue, the game will pick up right where you left off. That’s such a nice improvement over the countless games in which an event triggering will interrupt a character’s speech, rendering whatever they’d intended to say forever lost to time.
Another neat aspect of the game’s design is that the more you click through dialogue options, the more the miles to your next destination tick down. I was often so enthralled with the post-combat dialogues that I would forget to upgrade and heal the party (sorry for making you die a lot, Val!). So engaging were the convos that I found myself wanting to beat encounters efficiently just so I could continue hearing the latest gossip between Sam, Grace, and Val.
Nevertheless, Get in the Car, Loser!’s gameplay loop can start to feel repetitive early on. After a while, you get into a comfortable groove for how you prioritise attacks to the point where combat becomes a bit of an afterthought. Admittedly, there were also times when I wasn’t sure if I was playing as intended or spamming keys like a novice StarCraft player. Luckily, the repetitive early combat evolved into more challenging exchanges, and I kept surviving well enough, as the game continued on.
Even if you don’t have experience with turn-based RPGs, the gameplay is ultimately pretty approachable. The battle system involves maintaining a combo string between each character’s attacks. By utilising cooldown times effectively, you can wombo-combo the enemy team to the point where they won’t have any time themselves to throw a punch or lick their wounds. That’s when you know you’re on the right track.
Depending on who lands the final blow, you’ll see a slick eyecatch of that character on a postcard before the post-battle summary. When I realised this, I made a mini-game out of rotating between each character’s victory screen. I’m extremely partial to Val’s and Sam’s, both great sources of serotonin.
Get in the Car, Loser! is the complete 2D RPG package. Love’s witty and deep narrative writing is the perfect match for concept artist Isaac Robin’s beautifully expressive portraits, and fancy in-battle visual effects from Miguel Sternberg complete the package.
If you want to prove you aren’t a “useless gay disaster” and like playing free, colourful 2D RPGs, Get in the Car, Loser! is a trip worth taking.