Do you remember Wall-E? Pixar’s movie about a little robot from 2008? That’s essentially the theme of Defunct. You play as a one-wheeled robot (who I will refer to as Robowheel from now on) that’s been accidentally jettisoned from his mother ship onto the surface of a mysterious planet (It’s Earth. The game doesn’t say so, but it’s definitely Earth). Your goal is to navigate the planet and help the little robot back to his ship. The catch is that Robowheel’s engine is malfunctioning, so he can’t get up to speed very quickly. Thus, you’ll have to make use of his Gravitize ability that allows him to speed up immensely when rolling downward and even cling to vertical and upside-down surfaces.
The way the levels are laid out in Defunct allows you to take full advantage of how Robowheel maneuvers. But, you have to do so correctly in order to get anywhere fast. Momentum is everything. Having too little or too much momentum will hinder you from making progress in areas where timing is crucial. In fact, timing plays a big part throughout the game. Most of the levels are very wide and spacious, and since there’s no time limit, you’re free to explore as you see fit. There are many branching paths that you can take, but some are harder to get to than others. As such, timing your jumps and descents correctly is essential to getting to higher paths.
Regardless of which path you take, traversal can be pretty fun once you get up to speed. There are ramps, speed boosters, rails, loop-de-loops, tubes, and bounce pads littered throughout each level, thus offering an almost rollercoaster-like experience throughout your journey. When Defunct really gets up to speed, it can offer an exhilarating thrill ride.
But, if you’re not careful, things can feel more clunky rather than slick. I found myself getting stuck behind objects a few times, and the button layout makes the controls feel cramped (when using the Joy-Con). Even so, practice makes perfect. The levels all flow into one another, but you can always warp back to specific points to replay it if you want to see what every path has to offer or pull off maneuvers you may have messed up before. Another reason to revisit levels is to hunt down all of the Defunct tokens. Collecting them will allow you to gain unlockables (such as tricks and paint jobs), although finding them is not necessary to get to the end of the game.
Speaking of the end, Defunct’s emphasis on speed also applies to its overall duration. My playthrough from the beginning to the end credits came to about two hours, if not a little less. And, if you really want to speedrun (which is very easy to do given the aforementioned blended levels), you’ll probably end up finishing the game in an hour or less. Any sort of real ‘longevity’ only comes in if you intend to retread old ground and explore every branching path in each level and find every token. Other than that, Defunct pretty much ends as soon as it begins. Given the $15 price tag, it would’ve been nice if the game were longer.
Given the emphasis on speed, I wonder if the developers sped through certain parts of the creation process. The reason why I say that is because there are certain parts of the presentation that come off as rushed. One thing I noticed immediately was the lack of sound effects. There are a few that are present, but it often seems like the soundscape is more of a vacuum. You can faintly hear Robowheel squeak and pudder along with his broken engine, and there are a few ambient environmental noises, but moments where you would expect to hear more sounds are usually rather quiet. For instance, the opening level features a path where old cars are falling off a cliffside, yet they don’t really make much of a sound. This is a minor gripe, but it just seemed odd and it was a quirk that was repeated straight up until the end of the game.
The real issue I have with Defunct’s presentation is the frame rate. On Switch, even in docked mode, the frame rate chugs along and stutters quite often. This usually happens when Robowheel moves at his fastest (which breaks the sense of speed) and it also occurs when you pass a checkpoint and the game is automatically saving. Interestingly enough, Defunct is one of the few games that has graphical options on Switch. Similar to titles like Rocket League, you can select between Quality and Performance modes. There’s also a third option that optimizes the game for battery life, although it really doesn’t look any different from Performance mode.
The difference between the two is that Quality mode adds shadows and (tries to) keep the frame rate locked at 30FPS, whereas Performance mode targets 60 FPS and strips back the shadows. The resolution seems untouched, although anti-aliasing does not appear to be present in either mode. That said, I don’t really get why this game has these options nor why it can’t keep up a consistent 60 FPS. Defunct is no visual masterpiece; it’s not ugly, but its cartoony artstyle offers a very simple visual theme and muddy textures. There are more demanding titles on the Switch, including fast-paced ones like FAST RMX. Thus, the frame rate issues and a need for varying graphical options seem to be a product of poor optimization on the developers’ behalf.
Despite its shortcomings, Defunct is still a mostly enjoyable little game. Though, it’s hard to determine if it has any real lasting appeal. Given its short playtime, if you do go through the trouble of exploring every level to the absolute maximum, you may be able to squeeze a handful more hours out of it. But, there really isn’t much to come back to after that. I’d say this is a game better picked up on sale if it ever drops below the $10 mark. Defunct is a fun distraction, but it’s hard to consider it to be any more than that.