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High Strangeness (PC) artwork

High Strangeness (PC) review


"A brief look into the inventive world of 12bit."


Itís all the fault of High Strangeness, you know. All those Kickstarted games draining your wallet and nibbling at your nostalgia. Back when Kickstarter was a little known website, this was the first video game put up on the now wildly popular crowdfunding platform, and the only thing itís not done to type is release the game in two halves and blame you, the funders, for funding too much.

Instead, it seems to have garnered all its attention via its novel hook; HIgh Strangeness is a 12bit game. Iíll give you a second to work that out -- it lies between the 8bit and 16bit scope. It does this by taking the two eras and then sandwiching them together. Floppy-haired, badanada-adorned protagonist, Boyd, quickly gains access to a strange crystal skull that allows him to morph between worlds, each decked out in the trappings of each respective bit range. In the better defined 16bit world he has access to a combo attack and can dash short distances, feeling a lot like action RPGs of that era such as Beyond Oasis/Story of Thor. The 8bit version shares more in common with early Zelda or Ys, with basic 4-directional movement locked in and only being able to offer very basic attack patterns.



Essentially, High Strangeness has been built twice in completely different retro cloaks then sent out into the world to coexist together. No matter where you are or what youíre doing in one world, switching to the other will transport you to one thatís nearly identical. Nearly, because a lot of the gameís best puzzles come from having to switch eras to take advantage of the slight differences between the two. Paths through pits of jutting spikes might be clearer in one setting than it is in another, or platform placement might alter just enough to allow you to traverse further. Combat changes dramatically, too. It might feel like the 16bitís access to combos and a higher tempo might be the best option to wage war in, but the 8bit enemies have to swallow the same debuffs as you, losing movement and gaining less fleshed-out attack options.

Both types of combat work off a stamina bar which probably doesnít work as well as it could have. A few swings of your main weapon (a flashlight -- I donít care; I still wonít believe it was a good stand-alone weapon to have in Doom 3) leaves you exhausted and unable to attack any further until it refills. This leads to oft-comical moments where youíre left hammering the attack button to no effect while cloaked phantoms eat away at your health, or you're forced to hide away in to corner in the hopes nothing notices you while it refills. The stamina bar also regulates your use of special attacks, such as flinging CDs at targets to stun them, or dropping fireworks that act as bombs and cause explosion damage to anything that wanders near them. Defeated enemies drop crystal eyes that can either refill lost chunks of health or stamina, but can also be used at temples to buy various upgrades such as studier clothes or hardier attacks or stamina boosts and, oh god, buy the stamina boost.



Even with all the standing around waiting to catch your breath from all the aggressive flashlight prodding, it would be fair to say that HIgh Strangeness is a short game that you could probably see off in a decent afternoon session. As itís two games stitched together, itís hard to feel too let down by this, but, on the other hand, it doesn't help the gameís pacing especially when it advances a tale so haphazardly handled. While the plot is kept purposefully vague and odd in the first half of the game, dealing with dual worlds, invaders from another dimension and really smug cats, plot progression is routinely dropped on you lap by the way of long scripts of scrolling text. By the time conclusion comes along, all the twists are shot out rapid fire and, in the forced brevity of their uncovering, lose all meaning and just blur together as reasons to cave in skulls with a flashlight.

HIgh Strangeness does find most of its redemption in the cleverness of some puzzles that require different layers of lateral thinking the further you progress. Though these bite-sized levels will start blurring together as you pick up pace, they each task you with finding new ways to make use of new tools you acquire. To start with, when you only have your inexhaustible stack of CDs, you might need to find ways to ricochet your near-obsolete media around obstacles and onto switches, while later tools, like the ability to summon temporary blocks of light or to control a fleeting ghost, all need to become a part of your reasoning. The puzzles are never hard enough to cause rage-quiting but still maintain enough challenge to feel rewarding. Itís a good, if rarely realised, balance.



The shortness of the title also works well in ensuring HIgh Strangeness never wears out its welcome, and its core mechanic of switching between beloved eras of video gaming works so well Iím left surprised itís not been used before. Itís a good balm for nostalgia, letting us enjoy a lot of things we remember fondly while, at the same time, banishing all that endless grind we like to pretend didnít exist. If you remember those days fondly, or if youíre curious as to why the older generation keep harping on about it like it was the Mecca of game design, put an afternoon aside and lob CDs at cloaked ghosts for a spell. Thereís worse ways to spend a day.

3/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 17, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted May 22, 2015:

Haha, cool. I watched your video of this first because I was curious, and got a kick out of how silly the plot / dialogue seemed to be, kind of like it was trying to make fun of itself. The review, perhaps obviously, covers more than that short video LP did, describing just what makes this unique. That stamina system dose sound a bit aggravating, though, but also sounds like it can be overlooked. I thought about checking this one out myself sometime, but since my backlog is so huge, I don't know that I'll get around to it.

I also appreciate the nod to my Ys review. I still feel as though it's one of my better ones. =D
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EmP posted May 25, 2015:

Now three videos in. Man, it's such a time-sink, this long play nonsense. I planned to do maybe one a day but there is rarely a time when I don't feel like I have something better to do.

Anyway, thanks! High Strangeness is a good idea and is short enough to finish before the gimmick starts to wear on you. No worries about the Ys link. I've only reviewed Ys III so couldn't use one of my own -- I suppose yours will just have to do.


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