Frankly speaking, I’d have been impressed if Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son resembled a best-forgotten, straight-to-DVD sequel. This is not, I’m sure you’d agree, the most obvious of options for a VR follow-up. And yet, somehow, it fits like a glove.
This is a remarkably natural concoction of immersive storytelling and interactivity. It probably wouldn’t be in the hands of anyone other than Tequila Works, a studio with suspiciously specific experience in the field of time-bending narratives. It’s as if the team itself had been making the same game over and over until it arrived at this, a perfect outlet for its fixation on time-distorted stories.
And it really runs with the opportunity, intricately navigating a multi-stranded narrative in which Phil Connors Jr., a familiar brand of mean-spirited vlogger, reckons with the legacy of his enlightened father. Connors Jr. is sharp-tongued and responsibility-adverse, which comes to a head when he returns to his home town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Forced to relive the same day over and over, he wrestles with being raised by a know-it-all of a Dad and the disdain it fostered inside of him.
It’s one of the weighty themes that shows Tequila Works, which could have simply adopted the film’s gimmick alone, is keen to carry the burden of a true sequel. It’s as much a modernization as it is a follow-up, reimagining the rules of Groundhog Day in a world with smartphones and vegans.
Between scenes you’ll see tweets from Connors Jr. that flesh out the day in refreshingly abridged form and, if you access your tablet, you can scroll through old photos to get a sense of his self-involved past. Combined with a faithfully-recreated rendition of Punxsutawney and an art style that allows for expressive, if occasionally clownish, character performances, there’s more than enough reason to give this brave attempt its fair chance.
If there’s a foot wrong it’s in the expletive-ridden script. The game is often funny but occasionally mistakes the 26-year gap between installments as an excuse to swap Bill Murray’s signature deadpan style for foul-mouthed rants.
This just doesn’t feel at home in a world and story that otherwise does the original justice. There’s genuine affection for the source material here, from Connors Jr.’s biting sarcasm infecting every well-meaning cast member to the sandbox freedom of a world with few repercussions. And, yes, that does include some hilarious attempts at virtually ending it all.
More importantly, though, the plot does an eloquent job of justifying nearly every development and interaction you’ll uncover in Like Father Like Son.
Watching Groundhog Day VR piece itself together puzzle by puzzle is a treat all in itself. The day is comprised of five sequences you’ll repeatedly visit. Every day there’s an opportunity to learn something new about a character or do something that might help them. Your brother, for example, is feeling the weight of recent events on his shoulders and is in desperate need of a coffee. Your broken machine threatens to send him off the deep end, but you can eventually learn how to fix it and save the day. Doing so might reveal a new snippet of information that can help you on your path to self-improvement.
True, it’s small in scale but this keeps things cohesive. Every time a hint was dropped, I knew exactly when and where it applied, and progressively accumulating the knowledge to resolve an initially impossible situation was immensely rewarding. Plus, at about five hours in length, Tequila Works gets impressively economic mileage out of this handful of scenes. The masterfully-constructed breakfast scene has probably around seven or eight necessary variations before the credits roll.
This probably sounds alarmingly (and understandably) repetitive. And it can be in some cases, though Tequila Works does an admirable job of creating shortcuts where possible. Once you’ve learned how to make breakfast, you can simply order it to your house instead, for example, and many actions cause a ripple effect that ensures you won’t have to repeat the same tasks over and over.
And yet, somehow, with all these plates already spinning, the developer manages to throw a mostly enjoyable set of minigames and puzzles into the mix, too. Again, they’re often superbly validified, like refining your spray painting skills in order to win the respect of a young graffiti artist that’s hours away from getting himself in trouble. Most of them also feature unique and brilliantly intuitive interactions, like carving a stone statue with a hammer and chisel or mixing drinks at a bar. Crucially, they’re all based around skills you’ll actually improve on with a small bit of practice. I didn’t pass all of them the first time, but usually on the second go I got the hang of it.
There’s almost enough varied and convincing interactivity to rival a game like Vacation Simulator here. Not every minigame is a winner; a dance-off with the lovably naive Ned Ryerson feels just a little too forced if mechanically enjoyable. But once you’ve passed them (each lasts a few minutes) they can be forgotten, should you so choose.
Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son Review: Final Verdict
What a pleasant surprise, then. Against all odds, Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son nestles itself neatly amongst the growing number of VR titles that marry compelling, involving narrative with thoughtful interactivity. It’s a game with a welcome amount of heart, refusing to settle for the usual standards of tie-in media. Dare I say it, it’s even a worthy follow-up to a movie you’d have thought best left untouched. Bravo.
Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son is available now on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Valve Index.
This review was conducted using an Oculus Rift S on Oculus Home. For more information on how we review experiences and games, check out our Review Guidelines.