It’s been just shy of a year since I originally started the "Your Weekly Video Game Phill" column, and due to all of the issues we’ve all been a part of, after a few months, I had to stop so I could take the energy I had and put it into fewer things. But, I didn’t stop playing video games.
Maybe you’re needing to take a break from the big, sprawling video games from the major companies and focus on something smaller and more intimate. I hope to narrow the field a little for you.
Imagine a world conceived by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and directed by French filmmaker Jeanne Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) in which everything feels a bit like it’s hoisted up by marionette strings and you’d eventually come upon the world of Creaks. It’s a platform puzzle game that begins with you in control of a writer in his one-room apartment. You soon discover a door in your wall that leads you into a passageway and ladders descending into a Myazaki-Howl’s Moving Castle-like mansion with breathtaking, maze-like corridors and ladders that zig-zag past each other, all of which are actively falling apart around you. You want to talk about cold drafts!
This game is full of mystery, and it doesn’t tell you what to do as you go. Each room you end up in, you’re confronted by the strange creatures that inhabit this world. These creatures cannot pass through light, and when light hits them… they turn into furniture that you can move about to spring doorways or climb on top of to get to previously unreachable spots.
In time, you discover a story involving bird-like people who are trying desperately to stop a kaiju-sized monster that threatens to demolish their fantastical home. You never go to a cut scene, so everything feels like it’s real-time.
The game design is remarkable; the brown earthy tones and cartoon style renderings are a joy. You feel like you’re making your way through an ancient library. The controls are smooth. The music is beautiful, gently cuing you as to when you’re progressing through the room you’re in. The characters you meet feel like their spring boarding at you from '80s fantasy cinema.
Plus, there are weird, little side games in the form of wall paintings that you can find. They don’t add anything to the game exactly, but only sink you deeper into the mise en scene of the world. This is a fun one to get lost in.
Developer: Amanita Design
Publisher: Amanita Design
Composer: Hidden Orchestra
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems, Xbox One
A platformer that begins deceptively simple and simplistic. You in habit Gris, a mystical woman with pointy feet, whose cape flutters around her when she jumps, though at first you can’t even jump. Something has weakened her, but the music and sound design is calming, and the world is beautiful with its clean design. There are very little instructions on what to do, so you move the direction you can, and, steadily, the game moves from being simple to lush and vibrant, entrancing as you unlock colors that spread throughout the world like watercolors spilling on a page, bringing it back to life.
Like with many platform games, you unlock new tools that you figure out how to use along the way simply by using them. Parts of the world come to life and you have to figure out how to use those elements to progress forward. Suddenly, I found myself involved in this mystical, mythic, and celestial experience, because it wants you to be attentive to it.
And you just…feel…calm. Until one of the most exciting chase sequences I’ve experienced in a game occurs. I even received a bit of a jump scare.
The cinematic sensibilities in fashioning a world with breadth and wonder is more than simply enjoyable to become lost in. So, you ask me, what does it mean? Well, what part of you needs to be healed? I felt a warmth from playing this game, a kindness, a love, but also strength and empowerment. That the main character is a female - and the symbols of life and death are all female - isn’t beyond me.
Roger Ebert once argued that video games can’t be art, because you’re more than just an observer. In instances like this, where the game is left open to interpretation, your experiences color what the game is, what it means. Like a movie with an open ending, or an abstract piece at an art gallery, you’re allowed to interpret the experience. Whether you’re pushing the buttons to watch it unfold or watching the product of someone that has already pushed the buttons for you, if the experience challenges you in such a way, what else would it be called other than art?
Developers: Nomada Studio, Blitworks
Awards: The Game Awards - Games for Impact Award
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Android, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems