High Strangeness (PC) Review

By Ofisil 20.05.2016

Review for High Strangeness on PC

The indie community has frequently delved into the realm of nostalgia, especially when it comes to the audio-visuals; so frequently, that pixel-art-fuelled titles pop out every week or so. Luckily, many don't just stop there, and actually experiment a little with unique gameplay mechanics, like the time-bending Replay: VHS is Not Dead, the Snake-meets-Pac-Man Pix the Cat, or even the 8-bit Grand Theft Auto, Retro City Rampage. Does the same happen with the homage to the JRPGs of the NES/SNES era, High Strangeness? Sure! Is that enough? Not quite…

Since High Strangeness is a tribute to the great JRPGs of the past, it starts with a good 'ol wakeup call, but instead of the typical mommy character, Boyd, this adventure's protagonist, finds himself in a weird dimension which looks like a glitchy NES cartridge. Half an hour later, and this unlikely hero will realise that, just like Chrono Trigger and EarthBound, his mundane, everyday world is hiding more than meets the eye.

Boyd gets entwined with a small team of strange characters, including his, now-talking, pet cat. It seems that some evil-looking, hooded folk are planning on using a bunch of certain powerful artefacts, known as Crystal Skulls, in order to… do evil stuff on the cosmos, I guess, and our hero is - who else? - the chosen one that will save the universe by harnessing the power behind these items for his own good.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on PC

Unfortunately, the story is boring to say the least, with an abundance of badly implemented clichés that just don't connect together. Plot twists are easy to see a mile away, the characters are impossible to feel a connection with since they only act as quest givers, and journeys across various locations get forgotten a few minutes later. There are plot holes the size of the Sahara desert, and the boring exposition - strangely offered via amateurish watercolour images - will feel totally out of place with the overall retro look.

Even though a joke or two are worth a chuckle, and despite the existence of a few Easter eggs that pay their service to the golden oldies that inspired this game, it's pretty obvious that Barnyard Intelligence Games/Crystal Labs has done a pretty shoddy job when it comes to the plot. Gameplay-wise, thing are a bit better, with this starting as a very basic, Zelda-like action-RPG, with Boyd being able to hack 'n' slash baddies with his… flashlight, for some reason, throw bombs (firecrackers) and projectiles (compact discs), and do some light puzzle-solving here and there.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on PC

High Strangeness starts with simple things: stand on a button, and then shoot a projectile to activate the second one, or push a curved object in a certain place in order for it to ricochet a beam towards a door or something. The problem? These never really evolve into something more complex and mind-bending. In fact, many of the puzzles are obvious to the point that the only challenge is finding the incentive to carry the necessary steps and "just get over with it."

Can the selling point of this title save the day? Let's see. The 12-bit tech system is a simple, yet very original idea. Basically, what it means is that, with a simple push of a button, the visuals can go from 16-bit to 8-bit, and vice versa. Now, while the developer should be given a pat on its back for spending all this time designing everything twice, in terms of looks, the transition is not that good-looking, with the 8-bit world resembling graphics that are slightly better than the ones in the Atari 2600.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on PC

Of course, the idea behind this mechanic has nothing to do with looks, since this mainly affects the gameplay. Sadly, while an interesting idea, it was badly implemented. Most enemies become less lethal when encountered in the 8-bit "realm," but so is Boyd, since he can't do combos, and, even worse, can't sprint. Additionally, his disappointingly short quest isn't exactly a tough one, therefore there's no reason to spend any time with swapping dimensions, unless it's needed for a puzzle.

…and that's the main problem here because the puzzles that require doing so are unbelievably simplistic. Some examples: A river is blocking the way? Boyd goes 8-bit and reveals a path. An inscription is hard to read? Everything becomes clearer in 8-bit. Can't seem to damage an enemy? His weak spot will become pretty obvious by changing dimensions. In other words, the innovation of the 12-bit system was wasted in a kindergarten variety of challenges.

Screenshot for High Strangeness on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Why have simple videogames like Pac-Man and Tetris stood the test of time, while other, more innovating titles have been disappointing at best? The answer is because the potential of these otherwise great ideas has been thrown out of the window and High Strangeness is such a failure. The notion of mixing Zelda-esque puzzle-solving, with the ability to go from an 8-bit world to a 16-bit one could rock the indie community if it was used correctly, but, unfortunately, it wasn't.

Developer

Barnyard Intelligence Games

Publisher

Barnyard Intelligence Games

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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