Sugar Mess - Let's Play Jolly Battle Review

June 20, 2024

Meta Quest

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If you trawl through a VR marketplace and come across a game that sounds like it was named by a marketing department hopped up on Haribo and far too many double espressos, you’d probably scroll on. But if you don’t at least give Sugar Mess - Let’s Play Jolly Battle a go, you’d be missing out on an inventive and varied treat which isn’t as full of empty calories as the title may suggest.

From the moment you pull down your headset of choice and enter a child’s bedroom, you’re whisked into an almost offensively colourful realm where an interactive storybook charts the fairytale journey of a sweet Prince, whose kingdom has been beset by, erm, evil cakes. It makes the world of Candy Crush feel like a trip to the gym by comparison. 

The bedroom acts as the level hub to the main game, a wonderfully accessible tutorial, and a weapon store where you can buy new guns using currency earned in game. There’s also an arcade game built into the store which looks like a naff take on Bubble Bobble, but without the bubbles. It’s incredibly difficult to play and you’re unlikely to spend much time on it, but it’s a distraction and isn’t really the point. You’re here to shoot cakes.

Time to invest in sunglasses

And shoot them, you will. With one hand holding the gun and the other grabbing ammo balls and smashing them into said gun, your job is to blast a variety of cakes-with-faces into oblivion before they either shoot you with bubblegum-pink orbs or kamikaze themselves directly into your head. Your health is monitored by your wrist watch (do you have time to look at your watch mid-battle? It doesn’t matter, as low health is helpfully indicated by a flashing red screen), while other power-ups you can grab include health packs and rockets which act as smart bombs. 

The first level is akin to a fairground shooting range with enemies popping up all over the place, or descending from the skies. It may take a bit of getting used to as you familarise yourself with the controls — I died halfway through it on my first go — but once you’re in the rhythm of loading your gun and having ammo ready to reload it again, the gameplay becomes equally smooth and frenetic. Some cake monsters need a couple of hits to kill them, but both they and the bullets they launch at you can be taken out.

Literally banging

I was expecting a series of similar levels in all honesty, since VR shooters have often let the medium’s innovation do the heavy lifting while they churn out cut-and-paste levels with little to distinguish them. So when the next one moved into an on-rails experience, I took notice. Keeping with the fairground theme, the rollercoaster isn’t as hectic as the gun mode on Meta Quest’s Epic Roller Coasters — and this is a good thing. Enemies pop up with just enough frequency to keep you on your toes, and motion sickness is kept at a minimum while still immersing you in the ride.

Sugar Mess’ variety doesn’t stop there. There are simple rotational puzzles to solve, and problem-solving extends to boss fights where you’re tasked with shooting weak points while using teleport targets to dodge attacks. These encounters go on a little longer than the game mechanics are equipped for (more variety in power-ups would have been nice), though you’ll be kept on your toes deciding whether to attack the boss or limit their ability to recover by targeting levers delivering health packs to them. Conversely, the puzzles feel like a weird addition in a game that is aimed squarely at kids and adults alike; I can see younger kids getting frustrated at these points, but there is a “Resolve” button available to skip over them if you’re impatient. If that isn’t enough, JollyCo even threw in a rhythm game. And it’s genuinely joyous, not least because the soundtrack accompanying the level — which up to that point is cheerful and undistracting — is absolutely banging. 

And once you’ve gone through those four levels (tin can shooter, on-rails, puzzle, boss), there are another four levels with a variation on each type. The main differences here are stronger enemies which take a few hits to kill, and slightly different surroundings for the on-rails section. The second boss is also far more inventive and gives you a bit more to think about. By the second half of the game you’ll also likely have picked up a new gun from the store: the chain gun sees you holding it in both hands Predator-style in order to keep it steady, while there’s also a shotgun option which works better at close range.  

The handgun is fun to start with, but you’ll appreciate the other weapons in later levels

Otherwise, you’ll likely be done with Sugar Mess in around an hour and it’s priced accordingly. It’s a fun VR experience overall which feels like it could have benefited from a few more levels and a tiny bit more polish. The story about robots and friendship might appeal to young kids, but it suffers from translation issues and typos and adults might wonder what the hell is going on. And while the generic shooting sections are enjoyable enough, the limited enemy types mean that you won’t be rushing back to play them again even with the temptation of trying to achieve the coveted S grade at the end of each level.

However, the boss and rhythm sections in particular are very well designed and have scope for expansion on their own terms. Meanwhile, it’s all wrapped up in a blast of fluffy, colourful visuals and a soundtrack which will have you tapping your feet — or in the case of the rhythm levels, properly getting into the groove.

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Sugar Mess is a surprisingly decent and varied VR experience. It may be short, but it’s exceptionally sweet. 
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.