Steam Next Fest February 2023: Troublemaker brings Indonesian flair to the Yakuza formula
One of the most exciting things bubbling over in the indie space right now is the surge of Southeast Asian game devs making waves. And not only making waves for their fun and innovative games, but with games that reflect their cultures.
You've heard us gush about Soup Pot and shout out a ton of great Southeast Asian developers during our BitSummit previews, and we're thrilled to be able to do it ever more often as developers from the region are making themselves known and gaining greater traction in the industry.
Troublemaker is the third release so far by Gamecom Team, a developer out of Indonesia, but the first to truly dive into their culture. And it's clearly one of their biggest projects yet. Gamecom Team is bringing Troublemaker to Steam Next Fest with a demo that includes the game's entire story-driven prologue and a free-roam section that showcases what its in-between story moments might look like.
Just the Facts
Developer: Gamecom Team
Publisher: Freedom Games
Release Date: Q1 2023
Preview key provided by publisher.
In Troublemaker, you're dropped into the life of Budi, a troubled teen who finds himself only capable of fighting his way out of the situations he winds up in. The prologue starts with him chatting with an old street merchant who imparts some life lessons about being the kind of person society leaves behind, before Budi finds himself in a tussle with some bullying gangsters. He beats them down, the cops arrive, and his life "gets flipped, turned upside down" when he's moved to a new school in a different town as a result of the fight. It's the classic Fresh Prince setup.
Budi promises his mother he'll never fight again. If he did, it would result in conviction as an adult and likely jail time.
He's ready to embrace the challenge, and the change in location, to become someone new.
Turns out, the world doesn't care if Budi wants to be someone new. Because his vocational school, SMK Cipta Wiyata, is home to a major fighting tournament that dictates a lot of interpersonal politics. The Raise Your Gang tourney was formed in response to a controversy when the vocational school, which once promised jobs to its students, found itself failing to help all graduating students find jobs. The tournament was arranged by the school council to serve as at least one guaranteed avenue for students' future success — and after showcasing his abilities just a few days into enrolling at the school, Budi becomes an interesting target for classmates and rivals alike.
Gamecom Team is telling an interesting story here, standing somewhere between its two closest contemporaries: Yakuza and Bully. It's a story about kids who get left in the margins. Kids who don't really have a future laid out for them for whatever reason, academic or otherwise. It's a compelling setup and a fascinating look into a world that most Western gamers probably aren't familiar with.
One of the reasons I love the Yakuza series is the feeling that I am fully immersing myself in Japanese culture. I'm walking the streets, shopping at real stores, buying real Japanese products to heal my character, and playing the crane games you might be able to encounter in Japan for unique collectibles. It's a world I wouldn't have the opportunity to explore without video games, and Yakuza is one of the best examples of the "setting as a character" trope, where a game's location is its own living organism, interacting with and reacting to the characters.
After just an hour or so with Troublemaker, it's clear that Gamecom Team is taking all the right lessons away from what SEGA has done with Yakuza and are providing a look into Indonesian culture with their own special narrative beat-em-up.
The demo shows you just a glimpse of what's to come, introducing you to the group of characters likely to be part of Budi's posse. Boby, a stuttering, shy boy, is someone you stumble into meet-cute style when he's tripped in the hallway and drops all his books. Rani, Budi and Boby's class president, is trying to make it as a YouTuber. And Sophia, a potential love interest for our gruff and tough protagonist, is dating the Student Council President who makes his presence known when his lackeys shake down Boby for cash.
Not unlike Yakuza, Troublemaker keeps things light. It clearly has some interesting things to say about Indonesian society and the systems that fail its youth, but it keeps things silly too. The storytelling style stands somewhere between an Asian drama and an over-the-top anime — sometimes to a fault, like one scene where Budi's mother attempts a heart-to-heart that's somewhat overshadowed by the swooshing light streaks soaring behind her during the whole conversation.
Characters toss out slang left and right. Boby says the mie goreng (an Indonesian noodle dish) they eat is bussin', they call each other kontol (translating to "dick") in passing and fuckboy as a goodbye.
It'll be a delicate balance to accomplish in the full release, but across its 40-minute prologue, Troublemaker certainly established a unique voice and I'm curious to see where the story heads.
One thing I noted was that the localization wasn't all the way there yet. All dialogue is delivered in Indonesian, something I actually love, but the written translations in the captions can at times be confusing. Most of the time, I can piece together the general idea, but when communicating culture-specific bits of knowledge, some things definitely get lost in translation. It's a low priority concern, but I'm so interested in seeing where this story goes that I hope it gets tightened up for full release.
I can't speak to the cultural authenticity of what Gamecom Team are producing, as I am not Indonesian, but I can say that their passion and unique perspective comes through in the design of the game world. Walls of posters full of unique information and illustrations help fill out the world. The entire narrative setup, while familiar, feels brand new thanks to the specific Indonesian setting and little cultural details. Some roughness around the edges fades away when you realize just how much love is being poured into a project like this.
Best of all for the beat-em-up fans, Troublemaker's combat feels really good. It has some good weight to it, without feeling clunky like I've always felt Yakuza's has been (I'm sorry Kiryu stans). You've got your basic block and parry mechanics, environmental tools to use in every fight, and some solid combos that give the fighting a decent flow.
To punctuate each fight, you have "sick moves" (similar to Yakuza's heat moves) that you can build up with combos to provide a powerful move that is either silly, like the demo's "Eat This Chair" move (self-explanatory) or badass, like the demo's "Sacred Gear" melee attack.
There's an interesting system where stamina dictates how much damage Budi can inflict: Low stamina means lower impact hits, and vice versa. The demo's fights are fairly straightforward and not to difficult to get through, but the system is intriguing and will hopefully pay off well in the full release.
Money is more than your basic currency in Troublemaker. It serves as an experience point replacement too. The in-game store allows you to level up Budi's abilities — his HP and stamina and such — and unlock new moves. All purchased with cash. There's little opportunity to really dive into all this in the demo, but it's certainly interesting to try to balance a game's economy when deciding between stat upgrades and item purchases.
The demo features quite a bit of gameplay between the prologue and free-roam section. The prologue is just walking between story beats and fights — rinse and repeat. It works to introduce the world, characters, and overall narrative, but I hope there is more done in the full release to break up that pattern. And that's what I hope the free-roam section of the demo represents.
Free-roam shows the potential of what else Gamecom is doing here, with a full campus to explore, over nine minigames, and fun conversations between chapters. You can do pushups with a pal for cash; see how quickly you can race along in a wheelchair that a classmate found; or even play a "'90s childhood card game" called Tepok Gambar, which plays out kind of like Marvel Snap. You can wander around and talk to cats. You can purchase upgrades and check in with Budi's pals.
If these segments are scattered liberally between these story-heavy segments, Troublemaker may find a really solid narrative flow, but striking that perfect balance is key.
Troublemaker employs a fascinating mix of visual styles. In-game you're mostly dealing with an attempt at photorealism, with character models that feel lifted out of the PS2 era and given some modern polish. In cutscenes, and whenever dialogue is happening, characters are represented with highly stylistic anime-inspired illustrations. The gap between the two styles, while initially jarring, is actually pretty interesting, almost feeling like the difference in perception versus reality in the minds of a bunch of teens trying to make it through high school.
The illustrations almost feel like the way each character sees themself internally, and the more stark 3D models are the drab reality. I can't help but feel that if they were able, making the styles more cohesive would have resulted in something truly special, but the drastic difference kind of works in its favor too.
Troublemaker is shaping up to be a special experience. Gamecom Team just might pull off an Indonesian Yakuza game and I am all in for that. If you have any interest in Yakuza, Bully, Indonesian culture, or anything I've written in this preview, try out the demo on Steam and come chat with us on Discord about it. I can't wait to see what the game's like at full release, and it's certainly on my list of games to watch this year.
But before I go... there's something special I need to address. This game's incredible theme song. When I first started playing, I found myself tinkering with some things at my PC and I let the main screen stay up for a bit. I started hearing some guitar riffs reminiscent of The Pillows. I started hearing the drums. And most importantly... I heard these lyrics. I daren't say anything more than: listen for yourself and experience gaming's best chorus in 2023.
Keep up with our week of Steam Next Fest coverage right here on Video Games are Good and then once you're done reading... try the demos yourself and consider wishlisting the games we've written about. Wishlisting goes a long way toward supporting indie developers!