Dark Light

I’ve had a fair share of trouble during high school. Fights, drunken parties, and tomfoolery aren’t unknown in schools in the southern parts of India. But I’ve got nothing on Budi, the unlikely hero of Troublemaker, a Beat ‘Em Up meets high school drama set in an Indonesian vocational school. Developed by the Indonesian studio Gamecom Team and published by Freedom Games, this ambitious video game is now available to purchase on PC via Steam and Epic Game Store. Does Budi have what it takes to beat the ever-living crap out of his schoolmates and rise to the top? Here’s my Troublemaker review.

Cultural Appreciation

Troublemaker is fully self-aware of how ridiculous the story sounds and is not afraid to embrace it. You play as Budi, the titular troublemaker. Budi has a habit of getting into street fights but hopes to turn over a new leaf by moving to Jayakarta. New school, new you, right? Unfortunately, trouble likes Budi. Before you know it, he finds himself getting into fights in school. Ironically enough, the school encourages fighting. Apparently, there’s a fighting tournament called Raise Your Gang aimed at providing financial support to high school graduates till they’re able to land a job. Each class has its representatives and being the troublemaker that he is, Budi gets chosen to represent their class in the said tournament. This is some education, all right! Besides the tournament, there’s also a side plot involving a bunch of teen drama and romance. 


Much like movies, video games’ ability to familiarise the player with a multitude of cultures around the globe is truly something else. Whether it’s exploring the grim sociological conditions of 90’s provincial Russia or taking the player through the glamorous streets of 80’s Japan, before the bursting of the economic bubble, video games truly excel as a medium for cultural exploration. Troublemaker is no exception in this regard. While most of the Indonesian pop-cultural references and socio-economic conditions were lost on me. Nevertheless, I did love the way the developers explore the state of vocational education and unemployment in Indonesia.

The main story, while being totally bonkers, comes across as pretty relatable since there is a certain universality to teenage dilemmas and sociological themes such as unemployment and bullying. From self-criticism to fourth-wall breaking, the game truly shines thanks to the self-aware nature of the story. The game also uses beautifully crafted anime-esque slideshows in place of traditional cutscenes and is all the better for it. If you’re Indonesian or are familiar with the culture, you’ll have an even greater time playing Troublemaker. Cultural appropriation is slowly becoming a thing of the past. 

Trouble Likes Me

Troublemaker is a brawler at its core and takes several inspirations from giants of the genre, particularly the Yakuza series. But, let’s be real here. Troublemaker is a rather small project and you’ll only find disappointment if you expect similar grandeur. While the game features some social-sim aspects such as talking to classmates and taking part in mini-games, combat makes up for the majority of the game.

Similar to Yakuza, the combat is in real time and you get to do light attacks, heavy attacks, finishers and this game’s version of heat moves is called Slick Moves. There’s also an upgrade system in place, featuring upgrades to Budi’s stats as well as unlocking plenty of Slick Moves. There’s even a Slick Move that is pretty much called T-posing. Each aspect of the game oozes with throwbacks and easter eggs. Troublemaker is a game made with love, that much is evident. 

However, the execution is let down by the budget and scope. The combat, while enticing on paper, is not really good. On normal difficulty, you find yourself fighting the same old enemies using the same combos over and over and over again. The hit detection is glitchy, animations are not very good, hit feedback is unsatisfying. Boss fights feel like you’re slowly chipping away at wooden beams with huge health bars 90% of the time. The jank is overbearing, even for someone like me whose favorite games are janky as fuck.

You’ll be in for a world of disappointment if you expect the high school life aspect to be like that of Bully or Persona 5. Troublemaker is a very linear (and short) game that lets you explore the tiny school map once every few chapters. There are a few mini-games to complete, items to buy (did I tell you that you regain HP by chucking Wine?), and some scripted events like going on dates or doing homework. As for the mini-games, they mostly just involve button mashing. There’s one for push-ups, one where you rock a wheelchair back and forth (is that a reference I’m missing or something?), and a card game thrown in for good measure. While nothing special, they do offer a much-needed break from the repetitive combat encounters.

While Troublemaker holds its own when it comes to the story, the gameplay ultimately falls flat. I can’t help but wonder that the game would fare much better if it was a 2D Beat ‘Em Up or something smaller in scope. 

Mixed Signals

Things get a bit more interesting when it comes to the audiovisual department. Troublemaker is not a very good-looking game however you look at it. I don’t mean graphical fidelity. That can go to hell for all I care. It’s the art design that falls flat on its face. The game looks nothing more than a UE4 asset flip with a very bland art design. Washed-out colors, low poly assets, and lifeless textures drag the whole thing down. The less said about the sound mixing, the better.

At the same time, the cartoony cutscenes look great and are accompanied by some very nice music. Character sprites also look very detailed and stylistic. It’s a shame that this artistic flair doesn’t carry over to the visuals. 

As for performance, the game ran flawlessly on my 3070 rig with well over 120 fps at max settings. On Steam Deck, the game runs at 40 fps locked on low-medium settings. Other than the occasional visual glitches, the game is relatively bug-free.

A for Effort

I wanted to like Troublemaker, I really did. But despite the decent story (which is genuinely funny at times), the gameplay of Troublemaker is just too clunky and unrewarding to warrant a 20-dollar purchase. It’s evident that the developers really tried to make a competent product. But in a crowd of excellent indie games, trying just isn’t enough. 


Disclaimer: This copy of the game for the PC platform was provided by the publisher for review purposes without any riders.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts