Review: High Strangeness (Wii U)

High Strangeness Start ScreenPlatform: Wii U (also on PC)
Developer: Barnyard Intelligence Games/Crystal Labs
Publisher: Midnight City/Majesco
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Official Site
Score: B+ (85%)

 

HS 12-bit technology
 

While “short” by whatever “today’s standards” for game length is, High Strangeness is actually about as long as many of the 8 and 16-bit games it’s inspired by. A few too many gamers today are a wee bit spoiled by the still baffling comparison of game length somehow equaling overall quality so it’s great to play a new “retro” game that doesn’t wear you down with too many gimmicks before the ride is over. What’s here is a pretty cool throwback that bridges the game between the two eras with a “12-bit” approach that allows players to travel back and forth between two distinct visual styles. There’s also a mix of sci-fi and light horror vibes going on here with creepy-looking enemies, a big mystery and even a sentient cat to keep you dialed in from start to finish.

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In the game you play as Boyd, a rather generic looking dude (shades of many games from the 80’s and 90’s) who wakes one day and is accosted by some hooded demons inside his house. Surviving that encounter, he steps outside to look for his cat only to encounter more monsters and soon finds his cat, who can now talk. Things get stranger as Boyd finds himself in an alternate version of his town having to solve the mystery of what’s going on and why he’s seemingly the target of all those oddball creatures. Oh, he can also shift between worlds for some reason, but that’s all good because it makes the game great fun to play. Controls are straightforward and change a bit depending on if you’re in the 8 or 16-bit worlds. There are plenty of unusual enemies to defeat, easy to slightly tricky puzzles to solve and yes, a few bosses to face off against. None of those bosses will really give you much trouble unless you’re bad at these sorts of games or just too much of a button masher not to appreciate the game design.

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The game pays homage to classics such as The Legend of Zelda series, goofball hits like Star Tropics and a few more (and far shorter) games you may or may not recall. Boyd ends up with a nice arsenal of weapons and gear he can use against foes and everything comes in handy once you do a bit of trial and error. The game controls are a bit trickier in the 8-bit world which simulates some games of that era using less buttons on the controller or not having certain gameplay features that later became standard. Once you get used to this quirk, the game is less frustrating than it seems. Silly me got hung up on one early puzzle because I’d forgotten one of the rules for unlocking some types of doors in old games. Oops.

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Visually, the game is a solid enough visual throwback to the old days but adds static cut scenes comprised of some nicely drawn watercolor artwork to keep the story flowing. The writing is mostly great and funny throughout as Boyd discovers things are a lot weirder than they seemed. As noted, High Strangeness doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. While you can most likely complete it in about five or so hours, it’s memorable enough to keep in your Wii U (or Steam) library just like those old NES, SNES, Genesis and other old console games. Yeah, people used to replay games they liked back then. A lot in some cases. If there are any drawbacks to the game it’s the latter portion not being as great as the build up to it. It’s not a bad finale at all, mind you. It’s just that the game’s played all its cards beforehand and there’s really nothing “big” that’s going to floor the more jaded gamers out there.

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That said, the music is fantastic (get it here!) and memorable and overall this is a fun way to spend part of a weekend or rainy nostalgic day if you’re so inclined. While indie retro games are a dime a dozen these days, High Strangeness is one that’s worth every penny you’ll pay for it if you’re a fan of the classics and want to see a new take on some of them.

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