No Red T-Shirts ($0.99) looks innocuous enough—brightly colored 3D graphics with a positively bubbly style, chipper music, and the cutest little icon. But all of this hides a secret: Namco has created a game about fulfilling some pretty dark power fantasies.
Sure, the story is full of cartoonish innocence. A darling police bot is caught in a comical explosion, and things go a little haywire. It sees law-breakers everywhere it looks, and goes into overdrive doing the very thing it knows best: meting out justice. But let me ask you this: what kind of justice involves fining children for flying kites and playing with sandcastles? Doesn’t that sound like something a little more… sinister?
You oversee your charges from above, swiping to spin your view around the town, or park, or island, taking a Big Brother-like look at everyone below. An arbitrary rule pops up: no ice cream. It’s your job to tap every rule breaker you find, knocking their icy treats out of their hands, claiming your fines and sending them running. Then the rules change: no more bikes allowed, so knock them right out from under any deliquent cyclists you see.
Night falls eventually, and with it comes curfew. Now everyone’s a target. Tap them all to get them to run home and you’ll earn a big bonus. Miss any and you won’t—and we may never know what becomes of those who stay out after dark.
Your ill-gotten gains go toward unlocking new treats. Like a benevolent leader you set up skate ramps and open hot dog stands, all the while knowing that you’ve made the perfect trap. These new structures unlock new fines, and the more you upgrade them the bigger those fines can be. It’s an economy built around bringing the little guy down.
This is all for the best, because you have quotas to make. To bring one particular park under your thumb you need to buy a bike shop, collect 50 gears (the game’s currency), pull in 100 fines and buy and upgrade each and every shop. Then the next town unlocks, and you can move on to new pastures—12 in all. Those who follow the path of the righteous also get their own rewards, including shiny new tools to help track down your targets.
None of this is outwardly evil, but there’s a menacing subtext to the cheery outer layer. The IAP, on the other hand, may seem sinister, but it really isn’t. The gears you earn in-game are more than generous; it was clearly balanced without the least consideration for pushing IAP. There are some fussy bits—frustratingly useless goals, missing info, mistapping issues—but if we start throwing the word “evil" around for annoyances, where do we stop?
Of course, everything else in No Red T-Shirts is really all in good fun. But man, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s something a little wrong with punishing protesters and shaking down photographers. Wrong, but also more than a little entertaining—who doesn’t want to be on the dark side once in a while? We all know they have the most fun.