Tag Archives: narrative

Search Anoxemia’s horrific ocean floor for a way out

I purchased Anoxemia at the same time I got Subject 13, and I played it for a bit before quickly losing interest. Both were relatively cheap, in terms of money, and so it didn’t weigh too heavy on my shoulders that I barely gave this a shot. Well, I’m trying to clear up some space on my Xbox One–y’know, so I can download more games I won’t get to right away–and I popped back into it the other night to see if it could hook me. Alas, it did not, and that’s a shame, because I love spooky underwater exploration, and this has that in droves. It’s just not fun to either play or control.

Anoxemia, which, for those that don’t know, is a condition of subnormal oxygenation of the arterial blood. It’s also a story-driven exploration game from BSK Games that puts you in control of scientist Dr. Bailey and his operations drone ATMA. Together, you’ll search the ocean floor as you discover and extract samples from the bowels of underwater caves. However, danger lurks in each passageway, everything from poison drifts to powerful ocean currents, leftover mines from the war, and mobile machines running haywire. Oh, and there’s also the ever-present risk of running out of oxygen. Fortunately, ATMA can help guide you to your destination using a few special tools and upgrades.

Initially, Anoxemia greets you with some stylized 2D drawings with some simple pan and scan animation, which does a good job of setting up the horror-driven story. Here’s a twist though…you don’t really control Dr. Bailey directly, instead using ATMA like a mouse cursor to make him follow along. Your main goal now is to steer ATMA forward and collect oxygen, energy, and contaminated plant samples. This all happens in a 2D platformer-esque fashion, except you are underwater, so everything is slow and swimmy, and there’s a lot of waiting for Dr. Bailey to catch up and perform the desired action. He needs to also dodge water mines, cannons, rocks, and lasers, which is not easy because, again, you aren’t controlling him directly.

The levels are relatively short, but there aren’t any clear instructions on what you are supposed to do. Death comes quick, and there is no checkpointing–at least not where I was early on–so you have to replay the level all over again from the start. Imprecise controls were mostly the reason Dr. Bailey bit the big one. As far as I can tell, you need to collect everything to proceed, while also not running out of oxygen or energy. Or getting hit by laser beams or heat-seeking machines. It’s a pretty tough game, and I think it knows that; throw in the dark, murky visuals, which do look great at times, but often obscure a lot of the environment, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Anoxemia also greatly lacks in giving the player any sense of progression. In any game, whether it is a platformer, an RPG, a first-person shooter, giving players the sensation that they are moving forward, making progress, is key to creating a successful game and keeping people hooked for more. Unfortunately, Anoxemia counters this by providing players with little variation in the maps and activities performed in them. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell when I was moving from one level to the next, and it felt like Dr. Bailey and ATMA were stuck on a ocean treadmill, going through the motions but ultimately getting nowhere. Also, the Achievements don’t provide any clues as to what you can or cannot achieve.

I’ll never know Dr. Bailey’s fate…though I suspect he’ll go through a good amount of torment before his finds the surface and makes it out alive. If that. Me? I’m not a masochist by design, and so Anoxemia has been uninstalled from my Xbox One. Maybe I’ll watch an online playthrough down the road, but for now I’m content with what I know, which is that ATMA moves forward and then, ten seconds later, Dr. Bailey faintly follows; I do not like that.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Ego Hearts

Warm paper airplanes
To heat up stone-cold bodies
Banish frigid months

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Burly Men at Sea is an interactive fairy-tale too big for one playthrough

Burly Men at Sea is a pure delight. I mean that from every angle–graphics, sound, gameplay, narrative, the way it holds you close and keeps you warm and ensures that the world is all right and not so scary, even when scary things, scary beings, show up…after all, they might just be misunderstood. I recently acquired a copy via the Day of the Devs 2018 Humble Bundle, along with Full Throttle Remastered, RiME, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Yooka-Laylee, Minit, and Hyper Light Drifter, all of which I desperately want to find time for to play. I started with Burly Men at Sea for two reasons–one, its general aesthetic speaks to me deeply, and two, it seemed the shortest of the bunch to play. I was kinda wrong about that last part.

This is a folktale mashup available on both mobile devices and PC that came out in September 2016. One might call it an interactive novel, but that’s not giving it proper respect. To me, it’s a whimsical stab at visual minimalism, frolicsome writing, and some seriously disturbing sound effects generated by voices only. Burly Men at Sea was made by husband-and-wife team Brain&Brain and is based on early 20th century Scandinavian folklore. The plot goes as thus: three brothers—specifically Brave Beard, Hasty Beard, and Steady Beard, which are all fantastic names—find a map in a bottle and set off for adventure. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned, with one disaster leading to another.

In terms of gameplay, interactions are fairly minimal. I played the game entirely on my laptop, using just a mouse. You’ll spend the majority of your time “pulling” the mouse to the right or left to reveal more of the screen, and this will cause the three brothers to walk in that direction. You can also click on things in the background to see them react in fun ways, which reminded me of Windosill. A couple scenarios later involve you clicking and holding on specific areas, but it never gets more complicated than that. The game might actually be better suited for mobile devices, given how you interact with it and how long each playthrough takes, but this is how I experienced it.

So, the really neat thing about Burly Men at Sea is that it kind of never ends. It loops, putting our bearded trio right back where they started. You can go on another adventure, and maybe this time you’ll see some new things or perform different actions. I did a second playthrough immediately and was pleasantly surprised by what I came across, and I’m not going to spoil it for y’all. This game is designed for multiple playthroughs, but it is perhaps better if you take a break between them. Otherwise, you’ll begin to see some of the repetition. The experience itself is calming and cartoony, and the danger never feels like danger, but the tense moments still remain tense as you begin to care for the Beard brothers and think about how to get them out of the various sticky situations.

If Burly Men at Sea were a book, it’d be defined as a real page-turner. No scenario lasts too long, and they flow into each other seamlessly. I found myself constantly smiling at the absurd writing and animations. Speaking of books, each unique playthrough is stored in an in-game library that can be referenced to pre-order a fully-illustrated hardcover version of the adventure. That’s neat, even if it’s not for me. I’ll just stick to repeating this ship-worthy adventure, at least a few more times, to see what I see, to unearth something new along the way. If not for me, then for the Beard brothers. They gotta know.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #35 – Chairs for Bashir

Life with civil war
Put on concert, distraction
Need chairs, please no bombs

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #34 – Marie’s Room

Unlikely friendship
Unearth what happened, years back
Short and sweet, zoom in

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #33 – Thirty Flights of Loving

A heist’s aftermath
Piece together what went wrong
Replay to learn more

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #27 – In the Hollow of the Valley

Everything will change
Whether you see it or not
Life shifts, outdated

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.