It's weird that Road 96 has gotten a prequel, because it only came out about six months ag- what's that? A year and a half? Good lord. Still, it seems a slightly odd move, because Road 96 - a first person hitchhiking choose 'em up about the collective action of wayward teens bringing down a totalitarian government - doesn't really need a prequel. On top of that, Road 96: Mile 0 is a sequel to developer DigixArt's first game Lost In Harmony, a musical runner about skateboarder Kaito whose fiend Aya is dying of a terminal illness.
In Mile 0, Kaito and his family have moved to a small gated town called White Sands, in the 90s USA-adjacent dictatorship Petria, and made best friends with Zoe, who 96ers will remember as a recurring NPC from that game. Zoe is the daughter of an important minister and lives in the nice part of town; Kaito's parents are workers who are forced to live on the wrong side of the tracks. Through a combination of Road 96-style character-driven vignettes and Lost In Harmony-style rhythm action tracks, the two come to the conclusion they must leave White Sands. If you played Road 96 you kind of already know how Mile 0 has to end.
There are story variations in Mile 0, though, and the multiple possible endings depend on your choices throughout the game, but the general area you land is going to be the same. It's more about the how than the what, in this case, and given the context that's something I can only imagine won't be pregnant with reward if you didn't play Road 96. There are moments when, for example, the camera will linger with significance on a character who Zoe doesn't know yet, but who you know is a leading member of the Black Brigades revolutionary group. Unless you don't, in which case the camera linger is completely wasted.
Then again, I can't imagine anyone who didn't play Road 96 picking up Mile 0, so it's probably all one in the end. It's a short enough experience, too, probably running you about 5 hours, and falling into a comfortable pattern as you play, starting in Zoe's shoes. From Kaito and Zoe's hang out in an abandoned building site, you go to one of the other three areas of White Sands: the park, Zoe's neighbourhood, and Kaito's neighbourhood. Something will occur, like the disruption of a tai chi class for shits and gigs, or trying to escape your new security guard Adam, and this will become the part literal, part metaphorical music runner portion, where you swerve to avoid obstacles and finish the track. When you're evading Adam you start off speeding through the back gardens of your affluent neighbours, but it escalates until you're skating up the scaffolding on a tower as a giant Adam climbs it like King Kong and smashes his big pink hands at you.
There are nine tracks in all, and on the whole, I enjoyed them a lot. The music, both original and pulling from bands like The Offspring, works really well, and your musical races end up surreal without taking themselves too seriously. This does mean it feels a bit jarring at the times when they are tackling something more serious. When Kaito and Zoe argue about their stances on government propaganda, it's depicted as Kaito skating through the industrial hellscape of the real Petria while Zoe zooms through the lovely place the state news bulletins tell her it is. She remembers the mountain collapse as a terrorist attack, but Kaito tells her she's remembering it wrong, and she finds a literal behind-the-scenes of her memory like Roadrunner meep-meeping his way through a painted cliff face. I can see the intent, and it almost works for me, but I think it's a hair too cartoony for the subject matter there.
Not that Mile 0, or indeed Road 96, ever took that complicated an approach to the politics anyway. The curtain call on Kaito and Zoe's relationship is largely determined by which side of a binary meter you've swung them toward; each of them can be pushed to doubt their received wisdom or become more entrenched in it, mostly by either neatly pinning government posters up or spray-painting insults over them. For Zoe, this means aligning with the state, and for Kaito it means aligning with the revolution. Either way, they'll both hop the fence out of White Sands, but the terms they do it on, and how it ends, will change.
The first-person bits have some nice human interactions to underscore the emotional elements, often spiced up with some mini-games: delivering papers by firing them FPS style, persuading some cops to not arrest you, or pushing an angry little dictator on the swings. Everyone is always pleased to see Zoe and knows who she is, and if you start acting out while playing as her they'll blame Kaito's influence. There is, for want of a better term, an origin story for a character in Road 96, and a surprising face turn for one character at the end. Everything does a good job of showing how Kaito and Zoe both come from and live in entirely different worlds, and the tension where they meet.
In other words, it's a decent, fun game if you liked Road 96 and while I don't think it's essential, it's endearing to see a developer like their characters enough to want to do more with them. Nice, too, that they had the runway to do it rather than move on to the next thing. You get the feeling they wanted to do more, even so; there's a DLC in the form of an interactive e-book bridging the gap between Mile 0 and Road 96, which costs almost as much as Mile 0. It's nice to go back - but my gut tells me it's probably time we all left Petria behind now.