By Phil Schipper / May 7th, 2015
|Developer||Barnyard Intelligence & Crystal Labs|
|Publisher||Midnight City & Majesco Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 6, 2015|
|Platform||PC, Wii U|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
The fate of all universes is up to a flashlight-wielding layabout and his sarcastic talking cat. How, you ask? With the power of some creepy skulls that are lying around, of course. Welcome to High Strangeness.
High Strangeness is a retro-styled action RPG with a pretty interesting little mechanic. Though most of the story is told with nice 16-bit visuals reminiscent of classics like Chrono Trigger, you will also find yourself navigating an area that has 8-bit graphics, looking a lot more like the original The Legend of Zelda. Before too long, you’ll be given the ability to switch between the two at will, which is where the gameplay starts to open up a bit more.
Each one has certain advantages that seem imbalanced at first, but make sense as you go on. The 8-bit world is essentially where you go when you’re stumped. It has a few different kinds of secret passages that you can see and allows you to read some important messages that look like gibberish in 16-bit. Certain projectiles even move slower so you can dodge past them. On the other hand, in the 16-bit world, your flashlight attacks can become a combo, and you have the ability to sprint, making combat and general navigation a lot easier. Whichever style you prefer, you’ll have to switch often, though, because some enemies are “stuck” between dimensions. These foes can hurt you either way, but you have to match them in order to fight back.
Besides the flashlight, there are a few other tools at your disposal. Early on, you’ll get the Firecracker and the CD. The Firecracker explodes a few seconds after you drop it, damaging enemies and opening up breakable walls, whereas the CD can be thrown to stun your targets. In addition, you’ll also obtain skull powers, like a force field that stuns enemies near you and blocks some projectiles.
All of your abilities draw from one mana meter–skull powers, secondary weapons and even swinging the flashlight. This means that, no matter what your choice of battle technique, at some point, you’ll have to get out of there to recharge it. Luckily, you can get mana back by collecting the green variety of Eyes. Every enemy drops an Eye, which also come in a red, health-giving form. Either way, after giving you that short-term benefit, each Eye is added to your collection, and you can then spend it on upgrades. There are upgrades for every weapon and skull power, as well as your health and mana supplies.
Because this game is so short — only around five hours, really — I feel as if anything I say about the story will probably spoil it to some extent, but here’s my attempt not to. The protagonist, Boyd, has these recurring dreams about mysterious hooded figures coming in and invading his house, forcing him to fight them off with the flashlight. At the end of one of these dreams, he finds a strange red skull which seems to hold some mysterious power. Before he can even begin to wonder about that power, though, the dream ends, and he is off to find his runaway cat. It’s only as he runs around town on his search that he discovers that his nightmare is becoming real.
Many times in the story, the graphics I talked about above will cut to a sort of pen-and-watercolor drawing. Some are interesting, some are silly and others just awesome. They frequently reference the Illuminati and other conspiracy theories to paint the picture of a universe that is not what it seems, with multiple people stopping to tell you the story of the universe the way they want you to believe it. It’s very cool, but, with the amount of time that you spend in this game, a lot of those things didn’t quite get to be developed. Although the ending does make me think there will likely be a sequel, I also sort of found myself thinking, “Is that all?”
Luckily, the gameplay seemed a lot more solid. Though some of the combat situations were a bit on the easy side, I was pretty impressed with many of the puzzles I faced. Instead of starting you off at standing on a switch like almost every other game that has the mechanic, High Strangeness faces you with throwing a CD at a switch right away. Next, you have to set up reflective surfaces to bounce the CD off from, and it builds from there. For the first time since Golden Sun: The Lost Age, I felt as if an RPG was using puzzles to actually challenge me, not just waste my time. There’s a lot to be said about that.
Perhaps it’s that very same breath of fresh air that made me feel so disappointed when I realized how short this game really was. Maybe it’s the fact that I found out that High Strangeness was funded on Kickstarter back in 2009 — the very first video game to do so, in fact — and is only now coming out six years later. Regardless, at the end of the day, that feeling of rushing through the game’s story so quickly is my only complaint. Even if it was only for five hours, I was having fun for every second of that time, and that’s what counts. Definitely consider getting the game — it’s only $9.99 USD on Steam and the Wii U eShop.
Review copy supplied by the publisher. Review based on the PC version of the game.
Action RPGbarnyard intelligencecrystal labshigh strangenessmajesco entertainmentMidnight CityPCRPG