High Strangeness (Wii U) Review

By Albert Lichi 15.05.2015

Review for High Strangeness on Wii U

Back in 2009, Steve Jenkins launched a Kickstarter for what he called "A 12-bit action adventure." The title was High Strangeness and it had a very modest goal of $1,500, which ultimately netted $1,559. While the original launch date was meant to be in 2010, it has now finally been completed and released on Wii U eShop. After about five years of toiling away on a shoestring budget and fuelled by utter passion, was Crystal Labs' effort worth the wait?

High Strangeness is an appropriately titled game. The developer aimed to make this game a throwback to the type of action-adventure and RPG releases from the late '80s and early-to-mid '90s, with nods to the likes of fan favourites like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, and Super Metroid. Most surprisingly, though, it seems to pay honour to one of the most obscure SNES games of all time: Secret of Evermore. Anyone who knows this Square USA title will be able to find distinct similarities in the plot, concepts, and even the characters. Like the child from what was deemed the US version of Secret of Mana at the time, Boyd is a modern day youth who begins his quest chasing his pet and ends up in another world, fighting monsters that look like death, with him trying to save the universe with the help of crystal skulls.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on Wii U

There is some interesting lore and back-story within the plot and there is definitely care and attention given to it, sometimes at the expense of gameplay. High Strangeness can be overly wordy and tends to eagerly drag Boyd around like he is a date on prom night. During some of the extended scenes, the game will sometimes use very sloppy and amateur-looking watercolour illustrations, which is very jarring in something that is primarily pixel art and a throwback to the NES/SNES generations. The visual whiplash these illustrations induce is the kind of gonzo-style boldness missing from games today, and it does enhance the weird atmosphere. There are disjointed sequences that occur through the course of the story, all of which raise numerous questions that are never addressed, such as a part when Boyd is sent back to Earth to visit Easter Island in order to get a plot coupon, and then leaves Earth again, only to return back to a distant, vaguely connected dimension. He could have been sent anywhere and it wouldn't really have mattered. Perhaps these things stick out sorely because the whole yarn feels like it is over before it even begins because of how short it is.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on Wii U

High Strangeness may have some questionable story-telling but it does have some interesting gameplay. The lead uses a flashlight as a club-like bludgeon and can be upgraded twice using eye-ball currency dropped by enemies. At first, the amount of hits is limited, but after an upgrade he will be able to do combos and reduce the rate of stamina consumption. During the adventure, some extra abilities will be gained that aren't too unusual for anyone who has played Zelda before (firecrackers for bombs, CDs for switch hitting projectiles, and so on), and they cab all be upgraded twice and have use outside of combat, proving instrumental for puzzle solving. The main selling gimmick, however, is the jumping between the two modes of 8-bit and 16-bit. While an interesting novelty, though, there is no real reason to use 8-bit mode other than for the few times Boyd must do so in order to "see" certain passages that must be traversed or to fight a specific enemy that can only be killed in its respective plane. While in 8-bit mode (which honestly looks like 4-bit Atari), Boyd cannot run, he can't walk diagonally, and he is incapable of doing combos. It all seems pretty wasteful, especially since the developer seemingly had to render each sprite and background asset twice into two separate art styles, one of which will hardly be used since it isn't any fun to play with. Ultimately, the 8-bit/16-bit swapping gimmick proves to be a wasted concept, yet it is, at the very least, original and visually striking. Also, for what it's worth, High Strangeness does manage to have some involving puzzle design.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on Wii U

As mentioned briefly, this is a very short experience given its genre, and considering how long it has been in development, it comes as a shock when it reaches its sudden conclusion. After about three hours, a lot of the story's loose ends come to a very quick and hurried finale that leaves a great sense of wanting and bewilderment. It all happens so fast that it comes across as rushed, which is very ironic since it had five years' worth of development time. There are a lot of interesting ideas and originality, which is probably why it is so bittersweet to see it conclude so clumsily, especially since it is around that mark when the characters finally come into their own. There is also no post-credits content for what is a very linear romp, plus there is only an auto-save feature, which seems out of place since this is the kind of game where save points should have been expected. Auto-saving is a bit frustrating here since when booted back up, oftentimes entire cut-scenes are replayed… thankfully there is a fast forward feature, though.

Is High Strangeness worth the $10 after a little more than a $1,500 crowd-fund and half a decade of development? To the average Joe Six-pack gamer, not really... Even to hardcore indie game junkies and Action RPG fans, it is difficult to recommend spending $10 for what is less than five hours' worth of content. However, High Strangeness is a very weird and memorable title that is worth playing at least once, and those who are willing to try something a bit strange should consider giving this a shot. Finally, a special mention must be made about the music, which is impressive and feels pretty moody at times. There isn't a disappointing inclusion in the soundtrack and this is by far the strongest artistic expression, trumping the pixel art and watercolour paintings.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Anyone trying this will find that the time spent with High Strangeness is indeed interesting, but not for the price-point and it is lacking considering it took five years to make. Games of this ilk, back in the day, were more commonplace and tended to last around 12-15 hours, maybe more depending on the title at hand, and in the case of High Strangeness, which is a game that is set up to be a long and epic quest of discovery, is resolved suddenly, just when things are getting interesting. It is a massive tease of ideas and possibilities that are sadly wasted, never properly fulfilled, likely leaving gamers feeling very hungry. Steven Jenkins does have some interesting ideas and he really should continue developing more because High Strangeness does show promise. Perhaps with a bit more careful planning and more focused management, he can deliver a game that satisfies all his narrative goals, since this seems surprisingly rushed.

Developer

Barnyard Intelligence Games

Publisher

Midnight City

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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