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A lesson in anxiety

  • Cap_H
  • 12/25/2018 09:32 PM
The latest Momeka's project is an example of efficiency. The game takes place on a single screen, but the way it treats it makes it more interesting than most single screen games I've played or created. At least in its work with space. That's the most important part here. Everything else is submitted to it.
The following review is heavily spoilered. Read on your own risk.

A usual Single screen game immediately gives us a perfect visual information. You get a room or several rooms and you can see everything to interact with. If It's an arena shooter like Super Crate Box we know most rules from the start. We can pick-up boxes and kill monsters. It's very easy to figure out their patterns. Momeka managed to use the same one screen to make a game, which gives us a sense of progression as we uncover new rooms and new mechanics. In some way this limits the game and encloses it in its own space as opposed to many arcade games, which are about giving you a frame to move in and an infinite amount of gameplay by altering and looping the content of the frame.
In its compressed space Crypt manages to capture another sensation. Claustrophobia. You play as Jackal, who gets trapped in this very minimal space. The only way to move is forward, towards unknown. You can't avoid dangers ahead, they're there and you're expected to be afraid. Battles with guardians work into this feeling as you're pressured in your search of a safe spot. In the second fight of the game It is gets near impossible to avoid getting scratched and most players might easily start being frustrated because of it. You're experiencing Jackal being traumatized firsthand after all. The whole situation you're in is desperate. You know so from the go as you have to lock yourself in the screen at the start of the game. Finding out that there's no other way out was almost as depressing as being called a thief by an ancient being. The space in this game systematically tortures your nerves and makes you feel bad about the situation.

The space of Crypt also reminded me of the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy(2014). In the film Peter Quill portrayed by Chris Pratt manages to get himself in a similar situation. He's trying to retreat an artifact, while being chased by pirates. There are some similarities but the two scenes couldn't be more different in nature. James Gunn sets up his scene as lighthearted. We know that Chris Pratt is a protagonist and that the film or the character can't die here. He even includes jokes and some funky music. No such an introduction to our surrounding exists in the little game.
In Crypt of the Fungal Lord every feet of revealed space takes us a little piece of hope. At one point you bump into a skeleton in a hidden room. It gives you a healing item. The help is ridiculously small in comparison with what you see and its subtext. The healing item couldn't save the skeleton. This was the point, where I stopped hoping Jackal could make it.

At the end of the game, Jackal manages to get out of the tomb, only to be immediately surrounded by space bandits. It's desperate, yet the end is more of neutral statement about humanity's insignificance. Jackal uses the artifact he obtained to bend space around him and remove himself and everyone else from this plane of existence. It shows us another kind of space, which we couldn't see inside. Inside we followed an adventure and were afraid, because there was no promise of success.
Here the time is beyond human. The space is everlasting, ancient, changing. It exists without a need for intervention. It shows us how our adventures are irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. In that moment, Cronus is present.

To summarize my thoughts, the game is worth playing for its narration and its exceptional work with space only. Now, Let's review the actual game.

I love how everything creates a tight package. One puzzle for example is about finding a hidden object on the map. This way it naturally connect the space (again) and gameplay. The same could be said about restricted space for dodging in battles. I would say that this coherence makes the game little obnoxious to play. Some puzzles are too easy, battles on the other hand frustrating. That's especially true, when you manage to die. In that case you have to repeat them all over.
On your first run you're figuring out battles' mechanics and patterns. Second time you're learning about timing. You should be good on the third try, unless you're reckless.
The system wouldn't work in any other than a bite sized experience. By my reckoning Goblin Grosso pretty much exhausted the mechanic in Crypt.
Overall the gameplay is a mixed bag. I think it succeeds at what it aimed to do and it supports the atmosphere, but it isn't exactly enjoyable or lasting as a game mechanic. That said, the game would be a lot worse without them and probably something entirely different with standard RPG battles.

The game's extremely pretty and colour palette dominated by cool purple and blue tones supports the anxiety of the setting.

Sound is there, it supports the atmosphere, but i don't find memorable in any way. It's only an ambiance to anchor us even more. It works with this particular game and narrative but it exists in the same way as mechanics. I don't want to talk about this game because of the sound. The urge is because of the feeling it gave me and sound certainly helped to create it.

From some points of view, this game could be simply a five star experience. It's very polished and everything in it works towards a common goal. Yet I think it's also a four or three star experience due to some methods Momeka used to reach the goal.
A session of Crypt of the Fungal Lord can end up in a rage-quit. It's quite possible that you won't get to see the whole experience, then. Mechanics of the game can only be appreciated if you get over them. If you're not that kind of slightly masochist player, who enjoys games like QWOP, nice graphics might end up being the only thing you appreciate about the piece. I don't think it's something Goblin Grosso could avoid without changing the game's theme or making it shallow. The small scale also puts in another category of games than big grandiose projects we feel to be obliged to like just for the amount of work. I love small games with, but its problematic to be excited over them for a longer period of time. The experience's always little minimal.
The limitations led to a limited project for a limited audience.
Personally, I find four stars adequate to express how I feel about the game.


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Thanks for the review Cap. Glad you liked it!

Yeah, the brutal difficulty of the battles wasn't really on purpose. I should have spent some more time to properly playtest it. Debating whatever to patch it to make it easier or just leave it as is.
Personally, I ended up liking the difficulty as an internal part of the experience.

Oh, I should explain the last sentence. I intended to rate the game with four stars, but then I realized I liked it more than that. I think it accomplished something special in making me feel insignificant.
But I also think that the avarage score should be four stars, because I don't think all players appreciate it in the same way.
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