Review: Milanoir (Switch)

Blood and grit and pixels wrapped in a 1970s veneer.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/01/2018 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Authentic '70s look and feel; unique pixel-based aesthetic that doesn't lean on generic "retro" visual cues; engaging storyline
Poison Mushroom for...
Mechanical issues centered around aiming and shooting; some pacing problems

Piero is an ex-con fresh out of the pen, on the hunt for the person who framed him. That doesn’t mean he’s an angel, though. Not even by a stretch. Piero is dyed-in-the-wool mob muscle. He’s a killer for money and not someone you’d want to cross paths with. In short, he’s far from the typical protagonist that fans who play games on Nintendo consoles are used to.

Developed by Italo Games, Milanoir is the studio’s maiden voyage as a video game developer. Set in Milan in the 1970s, the game sets the player as the shady Piero on his quest for vengeance. From the outset, Milanoir makes its tone apparent with a gritty introduction to Piero’s world, with the mobster remorselessly putting a bullet in a man while sitting on a toilet (not the other way around!). There are no punches Milanoir isn’t willing to throw, no language too salty to utter. It’s not afraid to be naughty, either: an early mission sees Piero hunting a mobster who’s… let’s say taking in the sights in a brothel.

The subject matter is decidedly adult and unabashedly so. For video games, it’s not exactly new territory; after all, the Grand Theft Auto series practically subsists off of uncensored hookers, drugs, and crime. Still, Milanoir is much more deliberate and nuanced in its execution. The game is meant to reflect the atmosphere and aesthetic of ’70s Italian mob flicks like Almost Human and Caliber 9. As a period piece, Milanoir does a fabulous job of selling a sense of place and time.

This authenticity is helped mightily by Milanoir’s sublime presentation. The 1970s are possibly one of the most visually distinctive eras of history in regards to fashion, hairstyles, music, art, and more, and Italo Games has gone through a lot of effort to create a pixelated version of it all. Retro art styles have become a regular staple of the contemporary video game scene, but rarely do developers venture to be creative with it beyond throwing a bunch of pixels on-screen. Milanoir benefits from an abundance of small details and resisting the urge to stray into “cookie cutter” or formulaic pixel art. There’s a deliberate and distinct style on display here that permeates through everything right down to Piero’s spindly bowlegs.

The soundtrack is another highlight of Milanoir; it’s equal parts funky and energizing. There’s a palpable sense of danger throughout the course of game, yet it’s all taking place against a stylish backdrop. Think a Bond movie, with its exotic locales and settings, but a touch grittier, and you’ll have a good sense of the vibe that Milanoir gives off. The music perfectly complements the tone of the game, so much so that if any bit of it was changed it would really cut away from the experience. I’d imagine that quite a few people will find themselves tapping a toe to the soundtrack, or at the very least have a tune or two trapped in their minds for a few days afterwards.

For all it does right, Milanoir does still manage a couple of missteps. Some of the pacing dragged; the chase of Afrikana came across as overly long, for instance. Another issue I had was with the actual shooting mechanics. Aiming is relegated to the right control stick, which is natural enough, but actually moving the cursor and locking onto a target just didn’t feel right. This was especially true during driving sequences. While these segments were nevertheless thrilling, it felt too much like the controls were fighting against me. I get the sense this was intentional, meant to heighten the feeling of how difficult it would be to line up a shot during a real chase, but in this case it’s a bit too authentic— just let me shoot!

Overall, Milanoir is a very fun title. It has a deliciously dark and entertaining storyline, something that even the most expensive AAA games would kill for. It’s also home to some of the most creative use of a pixel art style seen in recent memory. The environments and characters look authentic to the period and drip personality, making all of the twists and turns of Piero’s adventure that much more irresistible to watch unfold. There are some mechanical issues that hold Milanoir back, but don’t let that stop anyone looking for a more unique video game experience from giving it a download from the eShop.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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