High on Life, the latest project from Squanch Games, is difficult to recommend. That has nothing to do with the game’s quality — instead, it’s a result of the game’s hyperspecific humor. Unlike other comedy games, like Portal 2 — which is filled with a variety of characters, each with their own style of humor — High on Life strongly pulls from the comedy stylings of the studio’s co-founder and CEO, Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty fame.
But the game isn’t so specifically Rick and Morty that you can boil a recommendation down to a “yes” for Rick and Morty fans and a “no” for people who haven’t seen it. Even people who are mostly ambivalent toward Rick and Morty — like myself — might find something to love (or hate) in High on Life’s jokes.
So how do you know if High on Life will work for you before dropping 60 bucks on it? How do you know your friend will like it if you decide to give it to them? You don’t, and you can’t. But that’s where Xbox’s Game Pass service can really work its magic.
Game Pass has gained a reputation as a place to discover darlings and gems you might have missed. (This very column is, in part, dedicated to highlighting them). Small, beloved games like Death’s Door can flourish there, and niche titles like Signalis can become breakout hits. And it’s obviously the best spot to get your fix of Xbox-owned games like the latest Gears of War or Halo Infinite. But Game Pass is also the perfect destination for games like High on Life.
High on Life is a game that will either make you cringe so hard that you turn it off in the first 10 minutes, or laugh your ass off all the way to the game’s first boss. The beauty is that, with Game Pass, either of those outcomes are perfectly acceptable. Either you’ll find a new game that you’re excited to see through to the end, or you’ll delete it off your hard drive forever and never think about it again — no harm, no foul.
If you do decide to stick with High on Life, you’ll find a comedic mix between Metroid Prime and Doom (2016). The shooting is a bit loose, and prolonged combat isn’t my favorite part of the game (although it gets better the more upgrades you get), but it works well enough that it doesn’t actively drag down the experience. The real fun in High on Life’s gameplay is the exploration. Roaming around planets and looking for the bounty you’ve been assigned offers some cute environmental puzzles where you can use one of your talking guns to help reach a new area and, probably, open a chest.
Ultimately, the game lives and dies off of its goofs and characters, which are both quite funny. Kenny, your first gun, is voiced by Roiland and sounds just like Morty from Rick and Morty. He’s constantly jabbering and spewing awkward jokes that swing wildly between charming and mildly obnoxious. The second gun I found is Gus, who is voiced by comedian J.B. Smoove. Gus is delightfully chill compared to the frantic Kenny — although he still fits into the game’s irreverent, random, and frequently dirty sense of humor.
The game is also pretty meta, and your guns will comment if you pause the game at certain points or try to shoot an innocent bystander. It even pokes fun at “lazy game design” and specifically mentions Polygon. High on Life also surprises fairly often with bizarre and unexpected interactions. Early on in the game, I shot a nonviolent NPC and it suddenly gained a large health bar. When I killed it, Kenny congratulated me on killing a secret boss. I didn’t get any tangible in-game reward — I just got the joke. And that’s OK, because the jokes are what I’m here for.
Smaller games excel on Game Pass because they’re relatively unknown until players find and adore them — like people scrolling through Netflix only to discover a hidden gem. High on Life is a different breed of Game Pass game: a known commodity that looks like an easy skip but becomes a surprise hit in your home because you have no reason not to try it out.
Gamers are often willing to spend a lot of money to enjoy something they love — just look at how costly some MMO subscriptions are — but when a game you’ve paid for spurns you, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. When you remove that financial risk, and the only thing you can stand to lose is a meager amount of time and hard drive space, you can take risks on games that might really surprise you. And for this holiday season, no game is more surprisingly enjoyable than High on Life.