Note: Thank you to Brian Provinciano and Vblank Entertainment for the review key.
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Even though this quote was made by Benjamin Franklin back in 1789, it still holds true to this day. This observation is especially true in Shakedown: Hawaii, Vblank Entertainment’s newest retro top-down action game. One moment, you are mowing down gang members in search of a new business venture, and the next, you are spending a crazy amount of money buying up businesses and slowly taking control over the island you inhabit. It’s a mix of business and pleasure, though what is business and what is pleasure is up to you. This is Shakedown: Hawaii, and it’s time to start a legitimate business, one asterisk at a time.
The CEO of Feeble has been out on the beach, letting his company run itself. Unfortunately, the only place it ended up running was off a cliff, and now he has to come out of retirement to rebuild his business empire. With the help of his son Scooter and a henchman named Al, as well as every dirty trick in the book, the CEO takes back Hawaii, one building at a time.
The tagline for this game is “Business in the front. Bodies in the back,” which is ultimately what this game boils down to. One part of the game is to go around the island and cause mayhem for your business, while the other part is becoming a real estate mogul and taking over the entire island. One is incomplete without the other, and both complement each other like pretzels and chocolate. It is this mix of mayhem and money that drives the game forwards and is the highlight of the game.
One side of this game is the mayhem. Hawaii is a 16-bit island with plenty of destruction to be had. In the world, you can complete main missions, side missions, shakedowns, challenges, collectibles, small activities like pawning stolen goods, or simply just roam. The game is at its best when you are in the middle of all of it, with plenty to do and plenty of firepower to get by.
The main missions and side missions are tied to the plot of the game, which isn’t all that interesting. The entire story pretty much consists of the CEO finding new ways to cut costs and boost profits. The other two characters don’t really add much to the story either, as the son’s plotline is either getting in trouble with a gang or doing errands for the CEO, while Al is almost exclusively used for doing the CEO’s dirty business. When it comes down to it, best part of this game in terms of non-gameplay elements is the humor, which nails it with its satirization of consumerism and cheap practices businesses make to get around regulations. The humor also extends into the gameplay with funny mini-games inside of the main missions, including refilling ink carts, playing a Tetris-like game to make a complicated rebate, and more. Humor in games is usually more miss than hit with me, but I found myself laughing quite a bit at the humor made in this game.
As a result of the lack of story, these missions felt like something to do more than something to drive the plot forward, which is fine by me because it is something to do. In terms of gameplay, the main and side missions are solid, unlocking new features to my business and hosting a variety of activities. The best main missions are the jungle missions with Al, as for those missions offer linear shooting levels, which reminded me more of the arcade classics compared to the open-ended combat in the open-world.
Speaking of which, combat in this game is simple, but a blast. It pretty much consists of aim and shoot, but what makes it a lot of fun are the vast amount of weapons and destructible environments. Weapons range from melees to a mini-gun to even a deadly hair dryer. My personal favorite weapon is a pair of scissors, which can cut people’s hair. Complementing this is are destructible environments, allowing me to burn down forests for “business expansion” or blow a hole in a wall with a rocket launcher, just because. The combat in this game isn’t without fault, however. The main issue I had with the combat is with auto-shooting, which felt finicky at best. Fortunately, shooting with the right stick works fine, so it never really got in the way.
Out in the open-world, the game has fair amount to offer. Challenges can be found around the island (though they are easier to access in the main menu) and test your skill with each weapon as well some other unique challenges. They aren’t really that challenging, but still offer some endless ammo fun. There are also some smaller activities like destroying mail trucks, stealing coffee trucks, and repossessing vehicles. Even though their value isn’t really worth the trouble, they still offer a nice little distraction while on the way from point a to point b. Another thing to do in the open world is find all thirty phone chargers, which is a pain the ass to find because there are no hints at all. It’s by no means required, but if you want 100% completion, then good luck. Finally, there are plenty of fun little secrets to find on the map, like the ability to die your hair or your car rainbow. On top of that, the incredibly fitting music by Matt Creamer and the vibrant Hawaiian color palette are layered onto the world, and both are a joy to experience. The world is a lot of fun to be in, but the one complaint I have about it is a lack of information conveyed. It’s small things like not showing the price of vending machines, not showing ammo counts in the weapon select menu, and other things, but it was still annoying to deal with. The island isn’t that big, but there is still fun to be had.
In terms of the mayhem, non-business side of things, I saved the best for last: shakedowns. Around the map are buildings in need of a shakedown, which consists of doing a task to scare the business owner into giving you money and the ability to buy their business. What makes these missions so great are the variety of shakedowns. You can be tasked with clogging up toilets, fighting off other shakedown gangs, being trapped in a security cell, destroying items in the store, and a bunch of other unique little tasks. Shakedowns are the most fun I had in the game, and the gameplay they offer is unique and varied.
Shakedowns are more than just fun side missions, however. They are also tied to the other side of this game; the business side. I am a fan of business meta-games within games like Yakuza Zero, and this game doesn’t fail to scratch that itch. There is something fun to making money, spending money on businesses, then making even more money, and that fun is translated right into this game. On top of that, every single building in the map can be bought, which is incredibly satisfying. There are few additions to buying buildings too, including multipliers for each building and the ability to extract business funds to your personal wallet. The one thing that was missing was the ability to send funds to the other two characters, which meant my CEO got all weapons and upgrades early on while the other two were left behind. This issue has been fixed in a recent update, but it is a bit too late for me, which is fine because it never affected my experience that much.
Shakedown: Hawaii is a lot of fun, and it is at its peak when you are in the middle of a bunch of missions to do and a lot of buildings to buy. Unfortunately, this only lasts for so long, as for what follows is the weakest part of the game. By the time you start reaching the end, two big issues come up. The first is that the missions start to become more and more repetitive, making them a slog to get through. The second issue is with money, and the lack of things to spend it on. During the course of the game, all of my money was being spent on buying more properties. By the time I reached the end, however, I had hundreds of millions of dollars but nothing to spend it on. The game does have a pretty short run time (roughly ten hours to do everything except the chargers), and I can think of multiple ways this game could’ve padded out the run time but didn’t (other than the chargers), but the end still feels like a limp to the finish line.
In conclusion, Shakedown: Hawaii is a solid top-down GTA-style game with some extra business on the side. The shakedowns and business meta-game is a lot of fun to be in the middle of, even though the game peters out in the end. My romp through Hawaii was fun and satisfying, and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a top-down retro game.