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June 2024

Road 96: Mile 0

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Ravenscourt
Developer: Digixart Entertainment
Release Date: April 4, 2023


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Road 96: Mile 0'

by Cody Medellin on March 1, 2023 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

Road 96: Mile 0 is the prequel to Road 96 that follows the original's narrative adventure roots while tying in heartfelt musical scenes.

The initial trailers for Road 96 made it seem like a road trip adventure in the same vein as a Telltale game. The release of the game showed that it was a road trip that was both deeply steeped in politics and rich characters alongside some offbeat minigames to pass the time between making choices. It was a solid title that sold players on the idea that choices matter, even if it resulted in some tonal whiplash. Instead of moving forward in time with a sequel, the developers decided to go back in time with Road 96: Mile 0.

The preview build takes players back to 1996 but focuses on two best friends. Zoe lives in the rich neighborhood of White Sands, where her dad is the Minister of Oil, while her friend Kaito lives in the slums with his working-class parents. Aside from the divide in class and treatment, Zoe notices that Kaito has been disappearing lately, talking to mysterious people and keeping secrets from her. As time progresses, it'll be up to Zoe to see if her loyalty lies with maintaining the status quo or with her best friend, who's tired of the current state of the world.

Without spoiling much, the preview build gives players a better view of the totalitarian country of Petria through the lens of its poshest city. From the treatment of its working class to the constant announcements on its loudspeakers, the place teeters on the brink of oppression. There are still references to the incident at the wall in 1986, and all of that information and more seems to play a bigger part in shaping how the characters eventually make their way to the events of the original Road 96.

Those who are familiar with the original title will know how most of this game will play out. Most of your time is spent talking with others and selecting dialogue options. Many of the options have icons next to them that affect which side of the belief meter you fall on, whether that's what you were raised with or on Kaito's side. You start off in your hideout, an abandoned construction site near a large metal fence, but you can venture into other parts of the city to get the story moving and pick up important details. There are also some minigames that you partake in, whether it's hammering moving nails to build a skate ramp or chucking newspapers around town. There's a good amount to do, so it feels like more activity than expected from a visual novel.

Some players were concerned with the game trailer, which seemed to emphasize what the developers call the "psychedelic sequences." They serve as an ending sequence for your visits to an area, and they play like music videos while you're skating along. The autorunner sequences are reminiscent of titles like Tanuki Sunset, where your goal is to reach the end, but you'll be able to collect things along the way to get a high score. Backdrops include a split-off world, trombones, and giant people; some parts have you hitting buttons in a Quick Time Event (QTE).

Your actions are mostly restricted to jumping, ducking, and steering as you constantly move forward. Hitting an object counts as a death, but the game is generous in that you'll respawn not too far from your last death point, so you won't need to replay large chunks. Considering all of the crazy things happening here and how upbeat most of the music is, it can feel out of place in a seemingly melancholy tale. Somehow it still works, since you are playing as rebellious teens.

Considering that the original game is marked as Verified by Valve, it should come as no surprise that the prequel also runs on the Steam Deck. In its current state, the game can run for about two hours on the device from a full charge while still looking as good as what a full-blown PC would deliver on comparable resolutions. The frame rate goes beyond the screen's 60fps, so it's possible to get more battery life if you cap the frame rate. That said, there are moments when the game briefly pauses before catching up, so some tweaking still needs to be done before the performance can be considered perfect.

Road 96: Mile 0 looks like a good but slightly different take on the ideas from the original game. The dialogue choices and minigames are all there, but the focus on two characters gives the game a stronger hook to work with. The first-person adventure interactions have a good balance between serious and goofy thanks to the minigames. The game is scheduled to hit in April, so it'll be interesting to see where the journey goes.

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