There seems to be an abundance of video games seeking funding on Kickstarter these days. Every day a new game is listed with some ambitious developer offering some amazing new game innovation, a spiritual successor or sometimes just a pure passion project. Some of very successful and have raised millions in funding for their projects. Others have faltered and fallen well short. High Strangeness was a success on Kickstarter and made history by doing so – it was the first successfully funded video game, raising just over the $1500 requested. This was back in 2009 with the game meant to be arriving in 2010 – now after 5 years it has finally launched on Steam and on the Wii U eShop. The only question is was it worth the wait?
The game story starts off with main character Boyd chasing after his pet cat. This opening is very similar to cult SNES RPG Secret Of Evermore, a game I feel High Strangeness takes a lot of inspiration from. Chasing his cat then leads onto a series of strange events unfolding that wraps Boyd up in the fate of the world. It’s not long into the game however that it tries to takes the plot very seriously, throwing conspiracy theories and a bit more depth into the back story. At this point the things start to come off the rails a bit, the short length of the game not giving it a chance to really flesh out, leading to a premature bizarre conclusion just as the things start to get interesting.
Despite this the story does have its plus points. Characters are all likeable and charming, each having their own distinct personality. The relationship between Boyd and Abydos provides some great moments in the game, the writing of the game really top notch. The story doesn’t always seem to take itself too seriously with humour well utilised in the game, producing some genuine laugh out loud moments. There are a few cheeky references to older Nintendo games and pop culture thrown in for good measure too.
High Strangeness calls itself a ’12-bit’ game – what it means by this is you have the ability to seamlessly switch between 8-bit and 16-bit on the fly. Each mode offers it’s own gameplay style – 8-bit has graphics reminiscent of the NES era with limited movement and slower enemies while 16-bit plays a lot like some of the classic SNES action RPGs of which it was obviously inspired by with full movement and multiple hit combos. It’s an interesting and well utilised mechanic, with switching necessary for progress through dungeons – water which blocks your path in 16-bit mode will have a hidden walkway in 8-bit mode. Impressively every area in the game is available in both modes, a real testament to the work the developers put into making the game. You will find however that you won’t find yourself experiencing the 8-bit view all that often – 16-bit is generally the more enjoyable way to play, you may find yourself only switching to 8-bit when necessary to progress.
Graphically High Strangeness manages to stand out. 16-bit’s Sprites are well designed and animated fluidly, each character having it’s own distinct look. Environments are attractive, albeit a little bland. Meanwhile in 8-bit everything looks as it should – 8-bit. The look is perfect; the throwback to that era is really charming. Interestingly the game uses watercolour paintings for some of the cut scenes. Whilst initially it looked out of place in the game, especially since the game was already working with two different art styles, the more I saw of them the more I appreciated them. They all were well painted and contained graphical details not found in other areas of the game.
Combat in the game plays out like old classic action RPGs, games like The Legend Of Zelda and (again) Secret Of Evermore a clear inspiration to the developer. It’s an enjoyable experience, the game offering a variety of tools at your disposal from projectile CDs to throw and the ability to summon a hooded enemy to fight for you. All of your abilities can be upgraded by using collectibles dropped by slain foes. It’s a very rewarding upgrade system, each upgrade offering a considerable improvement; you’ll find yourself voluntarily fighting against the same re-spawning enemies to reap the rewards. There’s also a diversity in the enemies you face be it scorpions, bats or skeletons that whilst not imaginative in design work well in gameplay with their varying attack styles. Boss battles also appear and are a great showpiece to mark the end of a dungeon.
Unfortunately combat can be easily exploited – some of your weapons stun and damage the enemies, almost making them pretty much defenceless. This easily exploitable gameplay takes away most of the challenge of the game, especially when they can be used against most of the game’s bosses. This takes away a lot of the challenge from the game and enemies are a breeze to defeat.
Fortunately the game isn’t all about combat. There are plenty of puzzles in the game, some as simple as moving blocks and others that require the utilisation of all the tools you have on offer. They really break up the dungeon and offer a lot more substance to the gameplay. They are clearly well thought out and well designed by the developer; they provide and extra challenge that takes a bit of thinking to complete.
The soundtrack of High Strangeness is awesome. The chip tune music is utilised perfectly to set the tone in scenes, Dino Lionetti and Rich Vreeland doing an excellent job with their compositions. The quality of it is up there with any SNES era RPG – a true testament to the work and effort that went into its production.
I’d be remiss not to mention the length of the game. Despite the long development time I found myself completing the game in roughly 3 hours. This is frustrating, not just because most action RPGs usually last a lot longer, but because I found myself enjoying the game and wanting to play more of it. With it’s linear path through the game and nothing extra to do post game it’s a real shame it’s such a short experience. Unfortunately some gamers may find that High Strangeness doesn’t offer enough bang for their buck in this respect.
When I started playing High Strangeness I fell in love with it’s art style, gameplay and charm. Characters are likable and the game manages to be genuinely humorous, dungeons are well designed with engrossing puzzles, the 8-bit and 16-bit switching is well utilised and the soundtrack is ridiculously good – the game has so much going for it. Unfortunately it’s held back by easily exploitable combat, a story that seems to go off the rails and a short play time. Despite this I’d still recommend you give High Strangeness a go – it’s a true throwback to the old SNES action RPGs and a clear indication that sometimes Kickstarter really does work.
– 8-bit and 16-bit switching is well utilised
– Genuinelly likable characters
– Enjoyable and well designed puzzles
– Fantastic soundtrack
– Story gets baffling and not very well fleshed out
– Combat is easily exploitable
– Short game time