No one expected a Groundhog Day sequel, but virtual reality is weird enough to deliver one anyway. Fans of the movie should check it out.
Bill Murray’s best movie varies wildly based on who you ask. For me, I was too young to appreciate many of his most famous roles, but somehow I’ve grown up totally in love with Groundhog Day, a film that released when I was just four years old but I caught when I was older.
Flash-forward to 2019, and one of my favorite studios, Tequila Works, has taken on a canonical sequel to the timeloopy classic — and has done it all in VR, no less. It’s a strange project, but one that ultimately justifies both its gameplay and story thanks to a keen understanding of the original, even if the motion tracking can sometimes get in the way like Ned Ryerson on a sidewalk.
Licensed games get written off fast, to the extent that we hardly see them anymore. But Tequila Works’ sequel has the latitude of an original project given that there’s no real movie to tie into. Like Father Like Son is the sequel movie, for all intents and purposes. It’s considered canon, which is a bit weird given how cartoonish the world is, and it can be difficult at first to remind yourself that, yes, that voice on the radio is meant to be Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors (it’s a soundalike).
Like Father Like Son modernizes the story by putting players behind the eyes of Phil Connors Jr., who, despite not knowing his dad well, has clearly inherited his egotistical, selfishness. As a popular streamer, he is on assignment in Punxatawney to life-cast his experience as the town celebrates the life of his late father, whom they now recognize as a small town hero. Phil Jr. hates the idea and cynically writes off everyone he meets as a dead-end yokel for the first act, but it wouldn’t be Groundhog Day without a character arc by way of time loop, right?
That’s where the gameplay shines brightest and the decision to put it in VR is what seals the game as worthwhile for all the movie’s fans. You’ll always know to expect the loops even from the very first time, of course, but how to correct for them becomes a fun puzzle in each scene. Determining how to quell your niece with a vegan smoothie before she road-rages through the living room is the first such instance of puzzles via timeloop, and the highly interactive world ensures experimentation is fun and the answer is not so immediately apparent.
Like Olympic curlers, you’ll have to stay one step ahead of the concluding chaos you know awaits each end of a scene, and when you do it right, disaster is averted and no one is any the wiser except Phil, juts like we see in the beloved movie.
When you’re not pressed for time, the world is highly interactive and full of mini-games, both optional and required. Surreal gear-shifting puzzles from the inside of a coffee machine take the IP to places weirder than the original ever did, and though that one is fun, others can be hit or miss attempts at narrative-free gameplay segments.
The better VR thrills come inside Phil’s bedroom and other areas where you’re free to roam around, using the game’s teleport travel, and in an almost Job Simulator kind of way, you can just screw with the world around you. You can play guitar, play basketball with crumbled paper and a trash bin, and even draw inappropriate pictures at your desk, which the game somehow recognizes and reacts to. Half the fun of every new scene is walking around and picking stuff up to see what Phil says about it and how you can manipulate it.
Ultimately, the story is the game’s best feat, though, which is at once impressive and expected for this studio who has quietly built a name for themselves with long-lasting stories like RiME and The Sexy Brutale. Despite some lackluster voice acting, especially from Phil himself whose lines sound like they’re delivered from a tin can, unraveling a new timeloop isn’t as funny or inventive as it was the first time, but it’s a worthy successor that strikes a great balance between callbacks to the original and new jokes for Tequila Works to call their own.
It’s exciting to first hear I Got You Babe over the radio, and just as maddening the fifth time like it was for Phil Sr. It’s certainly more than a remember-when machine too, which tends to be a hurdle for similar projects. Like Father Like Son solidifies Tequila Works as one of my favorite developers.
The only major blemish I can point to is the game’s motion tracking. It’s unreliable at the best of times and broken at the worst. This is due in part to the huge number of items that can be manipulated in any level, and when you’re walking around knocking stuff off tables or throwing them across the room, sometimes the most impossible task becomes simply picking them up again.
This is a minor annoyance in some areas, like Phil’s room, but a much bigger problem when you’ve got mere minutes to get all your proverbial ducks in a row before the scene descends into disaster and you’re forced to restart until you get it right. Unearned Game over screens will sink any project, and if it wasn’t for the goodwill this unexpected sequel generates in its story, Phil Jr. would’ve been stuck in a loop of mediocrity forever.
Final Score: 7
No one expected a Groundhog Day sequel, but in the experimental wild west of virtual reality, we got one anyway. Thankfully, the brilliant Tequila Works is behind the project and they infuse it with a tone that denotes the team’s respect and understanding for the movie and they mix that with plenty of fan-service moments to keep the quirky and miraculously canonical story worth your timeloop.