Yeah, way late to the party on this one (as usual — I’m quite patient these days when it comes to to getting around to playing games, and I don’t have to be the first kid on the block to play something. I’ve grown immune to hype and appreciate bargain sales.)
Speaking of which, Humble Bundle 5 is out, and as of this posting you have about 7 days left to buy it for $NameYourPrice. I really suggest you do. First, because naming your own price is awesome. Second, because the games are so worth it: Bastion, Amnesia: Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO, and Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery EP. [Update: They just announced the addition of Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Lone Survivor to the Bundle!] Thirdly, they’re DRM-free. Fourth, they’re cross-platform, playable on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.
Of the five titles in the Bundle, so far I’ve only played Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery EP, or S:S&S EP as it’s commonly abbreviated. I’d longed to play it since I first heard about it, but considering it was launched as an iPhone game and I do not own an iPhone, that was kindof hard.
The EP release was an enhanced version released for PC/Windows, and I feel it probably made the transition from touchscreen and tilt sensors to traditional PC reasonably well –although since I still have never played the original platform version, it’s hard for me to say. Still, it’s a very enjoyable experience to play it on a PC.
Despite not being all that challenging, I’ve really gotten into Superbrothers’ Swords & Sworcery EP, I guess mainly due to the flavor and vibe of it. While disarmingly crude at first, the minimalist beauty of the pixel art graphics is charming and evocative, providing incredibly vivid mood and atmosphere, the audio effects and music is absolutely excellent (who is Jim Guthrie?!?), and the sense of adventure is there.
It has a bit of the feel of a tabletop RPG come to life. There’s no dice-rolling, no stats and leveling, and very little hack and slash, but something about it reminds me of children making a game out of telling each other quasi-medieval fantasy stories, and figuring out weird puzzles that they’re making up on the spot as they go along. That sense of adventure, and I’ve never had it so full-flavored in a computer program. The anachronistic text narration and “regular guy” voice acting amplifies the effect, perfecting it.
The game does not focus on combat, which is rudimentary yet satisfying, and instead the game seems mostly to be about exploration and puzzle solving. The puzzles, once I got a feel for the first few, have actually been quite easy, so far, but it took me until about 30% completion to actually figure out how to see what I’m supposed to do.
Once I caught on, they became rather fun to solve. The early puzzles were more frustrating than challenging, with lots of staring at the screen and wondering wtf I’m supposed to do, while clicking, tapping, dragging around all over like mad until I finally accidentally do something, then puzzle out the rest of it from there. But as soon as I learned the idioms of the interface and became immersed, I was hooked. From that point, the puzzles still weren’t all that challenging, but were delightful and satisfying to solve anyway for some reason.
The way the story is presented, using variously camera pans and zooms, music, visual cues from the in-game characters gesturing or barking at you, on-screen text, is very well thought out and executed nearly flawlessly. It’s a highly polished indie game and the developers’ artistry is fully realized.
Overall as I played, I felt relaxed and like I was having a pretty good time. The fights gave me a little bit of tension, but only a little bit. There was a certain feeling of dread and pressure, but after dying a few times and realizing that the consequences of doing so weren’t too bad, and got a feel for how the combat system works, I was able to calm down again. The game never punishes you excessively for failure, which makes for a soothing and relaxed play experience. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where the combat system is both turn based yet fluid and time sensitive, and where patience, anticipation, and timing is more important than reflexes and rhythm.
If you are lucky enough to have enjoyed the 1991 classic Another World [US Title: Out of This World], I found that I had a very similar emotional experience with this game. And that’s a very high compliment.