What to play: The satiric ‘Shakedown: Hawaii’ and charmer ‘Escape Lala’

'Shakedown: Hawaii' is a "Grand Theft Auto"-inspired game that takes aim at corporate America and our violence-obsessed society.
(Vblank Entertainment)

“Shakedown: Hawaii” is a work of sarcasm inspired by “Grand Theft Auto.” Knowing this will make it clear to the player that this is a subtlety-free zone. After all, 2019 is not exactly a year that’s celebrating nuance, what with our always-on-edge political discourse, loud superhero films and violent fantasy shows.

So though it has a retro, ’90s-era look, “Shakedown: Hawaii” is built for these times, with a corporate-skewering plot centered on an aging buffoon trying to make sense of a business world shaken up by digital disruptors.

Yet unlike “Grand Theft Auto,” which can ruin any fun by being too angry, too cynical and too sexist, Brian Provinciano’s “GTA”-inspired games — “Shakedown: Hawaii” is a spiritual successor to “Retro City Rampage” — are almost gleeful in their hate. In fact, we may even cringe alongside “Shakedown’s” outdated boomer protagonist when he is perplexed as to why every household convenience today must be purchased via a subscription service.

But he wants in, so he invests in virtual reality and sets out to destroy the delivery trucks of the game’s Amazon-inspired company ruining his empire of retail stores. And if kids today are using fewer credit cards, he’ll get rich off others’ debt by running a business based on predatory car loans. Or just by stealing and roughing people up.

Set in a “Miami Vice”-inspired version of Hawaii, the vintage look and tone reinforces the narrative, one in which most of our characters are stuck in the past. If there’s anything working against the game, it’s that it starts to maybe feel a little too real. That may sound absurd for a game in which carjacking and bullets run amok, but we live in violent times — a world in which it seems that the rich keep finding ways to get richer, regardless of which tech-driven business is new on the scene.


Yet “Shakedown: Hawaii” doesn’t let one waste too much time thinking about the scams of the wealthy. The game is fast. Missions arrive one after another, and all are relatively short — go buy something, go destroy something or go drive your enemy’s car into the ocean. The arcade-like feel is well done, and since points are awarded for causing destruction there’s no need to spend time getting good at in-game driving.

One can also ignore the missions to simply try and buy up the island, or to just drive around and destroy paradise. Or maybe the player is actually improving the Hawaii of the game, which is littered with tacky shops and grotesque mansions. A little too real? Indeed.

“Shakedown: Hawaii” (Vblank Entertainment). Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC and Nintendo 3DS coming soon. $19.99.

There’s zero exposition in “Escape Lala,” a charming and brief experience for iOS, Android and home computers. You’re in a cave and you’re seemingly trapped. Why you’re there is never explained although there’s treasure and gems to be found. Still, this escape room game enchants by imparting a sense of wonder on the player.

Inside this multi-level cavern you’ll find a boat run ashore, a wishing well, a few ponds and an ancient mermaid statue. There are also knights frozen in time, making it clear that one should probably focus on finding a way out. The puzzles mostly rely on finding objects and figuring out where to use them, and the look is of a retro, mid-to-late ’80s PC game.

Those who remember the “Monkey Island” or “King’s Quest” series may feel right at home — point, click and combine objects for unexpected interactions — even though “Escape Lala” lacks the narrative emphasis of those titles.

What it does possess, however, is a series of odd and playful interactions. Why there’s a gong in this cave isn’t explained, but use it, break it and find a way to repair it.

This little game — expect to finish it in one sitting — comes from the two-person studio of DuckbearLab. “Escape Lala” is actually about a year old, but it’s free and a sequel is due May 31 for PC and mobile platforms. Early signs are that “Escape Lala 2” upped the emphasis on story; there are indications that a princess has either gone missing (or doesn’t want to be found).

But that’s largely just an excuse to uncover a world with crying paintings, skeletons in rocking chairs and, of course, flamingos.

“Escape Lala” (DuckbearLab). iOS, Android and PC. Free, with option to purchase a 99-cent version without ads.