For an indie game to be able to make its mark, there has to be something that truly stands out; a gimmick or quality that stands above the rest. Some of the most well received titles in recent memory have had this: Shovel Knight highlighted a stellar soundtrack and gameplay which paid homage to games of old; Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition oozed style and character infused with “Metroid-vania” gameplay; Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones promoted dark humor I hadn’t really seen since Portal; Affordable Space Adventures truly highlighted the Wii U GamePad in ways that even AAA titles hadn’t done before. Even some lesser known titles incorporated unique features to help them stand out: Antipole for 3DS (as well as the updated version Antipole DX, coming to Wii U) utilized a gravity mechanic that kept it fresh; and Tengami was interactive art in many ways.
These gimmicks and characteristics are what make indie games so enjoyable for me. They create a more memorable, satisfying, and entertaining experience. Recently, I had the chance to play High Strangeness, a game created by Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs. The game does have some flaws, but it does one thing very well: it truly feels like a game that could’ve been on the SNES. High Strangeness is creative, and it utilizes music and visuals to create this retro feel.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack in High Strangeness. What made the music so special was that it sounded like an old SNES game. Sure, titles like Shovel Knight have soundtracks that strive for that same type of sound; music that reflects and is influenced by the earlier days of gaming. However, High Strangeness offers up music that not only technically sounds like retro compositions, but also feels like they could’ve been actual retro compositions. What do I mean? Well, for example, Shovel Knight sounded like an old game, but the compositions themselves still had somewhat of a modern day influence. This isn’t a bad thing at all; the compositions are well done, a perfect blend between new and old. Where High Strangeness differs is that the music sounds “old.” I felt like I was playing an old RPG on my SNES, my nostalgia summoned as the notes played.
Where High Strangeness really shines is the creativity in the usage of visuals. The player can switch between 8-bit and 16-bit visuals to help solve puzzles and use as strategy when fighting enemies. The protagonist and his surroundings change between the two with the touch of a button, and it really helps this title become memorable. This would be fairly worthless, however, if it wasn’t used in tandem with the gameplay – thankfully, the developers did this!
There are certain puzzles and specific bosses that require the usage of this visual gimmick, and it was rather entertaining. (SPOILERS) For instance, the final boss fight took me a little bit to figure out because I had to use the switching between 8-bit and 16-bit mechanic to inflict damage on of the enemy’s heads. Each head was colored differently, and signified which crystal skull had to be used. One of the dragon heads requires switching between both modes in order to cause damage. This was a unique way to incorporate the mechanic as not only a passive prompt, but one that was actively causing damage to enemies. (END SPOILERS)
In addition to the visual incorporation into actual gameplay, I found the mentions of the switch to be rather humorous. (SPOILERS) The protagonist travels through dimensions at various times, and the visuals imply this kind of “mind-bending” experience by switching between the two modes while walking through ethereal visions (all presented in retro visual glory). In addition, the characters mention visual impairment whenever “going back to” 8-bit visuals, and it’s quite humorous. In other words, the game somewhat pokes fun at itself in regards to the visual gimmick used, and it really works to its advantage and charm. (END SPOILERS)
High Strangeness can be best summed up like this: its charm and true retro style help it stay above its shortcomings. The story may be over-the-top and the fighting gameplay isn’t too deep, but the musical homage to retro gaming and the nice visual gimmick help to make High Strangeness an enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a deep, strategical RPG, you might want to look elsewhere; however, if retro style and charm are your thing, this might just be a game for you.