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A Light Bulb Moment

Here's an idea! Let's make a game where you only get one shot to play it.



A mysterious light bulb appears!

Oneshot has you climb through a unique world so that you can illuminate it with a simple light bulb--the very symbol of a good idea. Placing that light bulb on a pedestal is Oneshot's plot when taken literally, and its biggest flaw when taken figuratively. Curse you, Symbolism!

I'll stop myself right there and forewarn that although I don't plan to specifically spoil this game, I also don't intend to be spoiling it. I'm going to discuss and review aspects of the game that are highly relevant and hope that none of these aspects are where the interest in the game truly lies.

--------

Oneshot is a game with a great set of graphics, music, and an atmospheric world, which is all almost nullified preemptively when compared to the promotional idea. You can play the game only once. That's the pitch, and although the summary of the game never actually "pitches" this, the game is sure to remind you over and over. It's a great hook (it got me!), but it's the least interesting part of the game.

Oneshot has you control Niko who is stranded in an unfamiliar world. This world is dying, darkness eroding every corner save for the few remaining areas that have illuminating phosphorous. The glowing phosphorous gas also takes the shape of small animals, like fireflies, which the people use to keep their vision intact and their technology humming away at a decelerating pace.

Characters have personality, even if it's only shown in brief glimpses. The portraits express not just the characters, but the world, sometimes letting the colors act as a juxtaposition to the melancholy surrounding them.

The music is gorgeous. Each tune has perfect instrument choices and an atmospheric feel while also being a bit catchy. It's a great fit and nothing should be changed about it. The lonely outer-rim, filled with rusted husks of abandoned dormitories and cones of gas-spewing rock formations, is made more impressive with the tone the soundtrack sets. And it keeps that tone all throughout this Niko's adventure.

The world is a fully realized world. It doesn't have the scope of, say, any JRPG's Gaia, Terra, Filgaia, etc.; but it has something that's very important: economy. The world's mythos never exceeds the size of its physical existence, nor do you feel like there's too little history for it to be worth your time. If The Three Bears were to drink glasses of water, Papa's would be overflowing, Mama's would be almost empty, and Oneshot's would be just right. The world of Oneshot may be small, but it's a perfectly packed box.

The gameplay is handy, but not especially note-able. The reality is that, at its core, the game is about an adventure where you explore, learn, and care. The "puzzles" aren't so much puzzles as enablers to this goal, and you can't ask for much more.

But the technical gimmicks almost invade on this space. The game has some really interesting and experimental ideas that, though fun, could have been left out. They're novelties. The shame in this for me is that the game will likely get more recognition for these hat tricks than for the truer beauty within.

I'll save some of the surprises and talk primarily about the biggest offender: the titular "one shot." If you ever quit the game, you can no longer play it. And once you beat the game, the same is true.

This feature is amazing, to be honest. I often wish games like Fire Emblem would have a "one shot" system that made every decision final. It means that players would all have truly different experiences, and each could never be revisited for completion or perfection. However, Oneshot isn't a game with a multitude of decisions and a life-changing outcome. It's a game with a rather linear--albeit nice--story that, for whatever reason, was made so that you only get to play it one time. The developers then decided to weave this gimmick into a world and story that could have been accomplished perfectly without it. To make this decision even more curious, they named the game after this feature rather than naming the game something more relevant to the mythos/plot.



This generic screenshot represents my inability to get more screenshots.

When you play, you're brought in on the promise that you must keep playing or you'll lose your chance to play any further. The title warns you of your one shot. The text warns you of your one shot. A mysterious voice warns you of your one shot. Even pancakes seem to be shouting "ONE SHOT!"

But I never actually feel like the game is thematically invested in this looming threat. Yes, there's a threat that looms, but it can be just as loom-y without this gimmick. Really, it feels like the developers are holding a sort of annoying water pistol to my head. They're making sure that people play their cool game at the threat of a completely unrelated cool feature. It's a misappropriation of an idea which seems more useful in the grand scheme of marketing than the game itself.

It's complicated when you become invested in a game for everything except for what the game is telling you to invest in. The matter is made worse when you think that there might be some deviation in the game that you hadn't conceived--a playthrough option that could explain why the "one shot" feature is actually relevant!--but you can never find out because the game won't let you. It's a game that tells you it's suicidal, and that if you want to figure out why or have the hope of stopping it you must watch Being John Malkovich... then it kills itself no matter what you do. Even if you love Being John Malkovich, your experience with the movie is a pleasantry with an unpleasant and confusing association to a suicidal video game. The entirety of what is an otherwise beautiful game is almost tainted by the addition of a meaningless feature that proposes it has meaning.

And if there really is a reason, you never get to know. The game is dead. The only loose string in this mystery is paradoxical: Why is there a loose string? It makes you think about it, but it's a trick in the same way that the color red induces hunger.

I highly suggest playing this game. I found the world wonderful, the music amazing, and the graphics supportive of the tone. It's beautiful in many respects. But don't let the game bully you. If you feel like quitting at any point, quit. If Oneshot loses a player because of its stubbornness, it's Oneshot's fault, not yours.

Posts

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CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10518
I like the last paragraph of this review.
There is the ending choice, though. In that regard the oneshot thing does force you to live with the consequences of your actions.

Though I do feel like it would have been clever if the game just autosaved and exiting didn't actually do anything. That keeps the "will you kick the puppy?" aspect without being overly punishing.
I think the One Shot thing is important, because it gives you the feeling of actually seeing a real thing. Not a game you can reload at any time.
If you make a mistake in reality, you can't take it back.
If a story ends, it wont start again.... I think, that's the point.
And it makes this adventure special somehow. It's a trick yeah... but well... many people like wizard shows too ;D

And btw. there is a game in this world, that saves your choices immediately.
Dark Souls \o/
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