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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (381)

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5
Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5

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Even the Ocean   PC (Steam) 

Changes    3.5/5 stars

“Even the Ocean” is the second game by the dynamic duo at Indie studio, Analgesic Productions, whose first game, “Anodyne,” blew me away in 2013. Three years later, in 2016, “Even the Ocean” launched with little-to-no fanfare (Steam estimates it had roughly 1/10 the sales that “Anodyne” did). I was interested in playing it solely based on the excellence of “Anodyne,” but due to my self-imposed rules on the ‘correct’ way to shop for games and Analgesic’s stubborn refusal to attach a large-percentage discount to it, I didn’t end up buying “Even the Ocean” until midway through 2019, at which point it was already 3 years old. A lot can happen in six years.

Presentation
“Even the Ocean” is a 16-bit styled side-scrolling 2D platformer assembled in the HaxeFlixel cross-platform game-creation engine. While all of the artwork in the game is custom, it nevertheless feels like a significant step-down from the art presented in “Anodyne.” Character models for the player and NPCs are larger than those in “Anodyne,” yet feel less detailed and lively. Character portraits now accompany the game’s many dialogs, revealing a cast of ethnically diverse, yet uniformly hideous people. There are no ‘enemies’ to speak of, though there are a trio of antagonistic entities that still manage to evoke the surreal and imaginative qualities that impressed me with Analgesic’s prior work.

Audiowise, “Even the Ocean” excels with well-thought-out use of sound effects and a musical track filled with the exact type of surreal, moody, a-melodic sounds I was expecting. One significant bit of laziness on the developers’ part, though, is the fact that game’s title is a reference to an in-game song, which would have had much more emotional punch if it had been performed with actual vocals in an acapella or acoustic format instead of the bare-bones MIDI format actually used.

Technically, “Even the Ocean” is solid enough. It supports Xinput out of the box and never crashed on me, though it does open a DOS prompt window “for debugging purposes,” according to Analgesic, and the main game window takes an uncomfortably long time to switch to full-screen upon starting.

Story
One of the first things old, wizened writers will tell young, upcoming writers is to “write what you know.” “Anodyne,” the first game by Analgesic Productions, told the tale of a character struggling with mental illness. “Even the Ocean,” on the other hand, presents a concretion of ideology that the two developers seem to have lit upon as their official core beliefs, in the aftermath of their earlier mental struggles.

In the three years between the launch of “Anodyne” and the launch of “Even the Ocean,” these two developers have changed identities multiple times. Originally, the dynamic duo behind Analgesic consisted of two college-age men, Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka. However, Sean has since embraced his Asian heritage with overwhelming zeal, changing his name first to Sean Han-Tani, then to Melos Han-Tani, and moving to Japan. Jonathan, on the other hand, decided that he was a girl, changed his name to Joni, and then, apparently decided that name sounded too similar to ‘Jon,” and thus changed it again to Marina. For those having trouble keeping track of everything, Analgesic now consists of a young man and a young trans-woman with completely different names who are, in fact, still the same people who started the studio in 2013.

With that out of the way, “Even the Ocean’s” plot, setting, characters, and narrative are exactly what one would expect from a team that has dived into the Identity Politics pool with both feet. In a world where advanced technology relies heavily upon the energy created by remote power plants, our heroine, Aliph – an ethnically diverse, gender-fluid young person – is just starting her job as a power plant technician. Showing unprecedented skill while on her first repair mission, during which her co-worker is killed, Aliph becomes something of a local celebrity in the grand city of Whiteforge, the singular island of progress and technology in an otherwise rural world. The Mayor of Whiteforge takes special interest in Aliph’s competence, sending her out on more and more missions to repair distant power plants that have been mysteriously vandalized. Meanwhile, Aliph must deal with her other co-workers and the angst-riddled live-in girlfriend left behind by the co-worker who died on Aliph’s first mission.

As she travels to the remote, rural locations where the power plants reside, Aliph will also meet an impossibly diverse population of minor characters representing every ethnicity, every node on the gender dysphoria spectrum, and every level of hipster douchebaggery (making me think the game’s setting is an alternate universe version of Oregon), and occasionally help them with their petty problems that stand between her and the power plants. There’s even a character who, seemingly inspired by Plato’s version of his mentor Socrates, exists only to ask opaque questions and spew philosophical gibberish when provoked.

Ultimately, there’s very little original storytelling in “Even the Ocean,” as it essentially reads like a list of bullet points on the Leftist agenda. We’ve got heavy-handed environmentalism, class warfare between the Haves and Have Nots, and criticism of the pursuit of power for its own sake, all couched in the mythological tropes of a Great Cycle and Advanced Ancient Civilization that could have been lifted from nearly any Japanese game or anime from the last half-century. Mercifully, the social justice diversity themes are significantly subtler, that is, if you consider the fact that all of the antagonistic, disagreeable characters in the game are White men ‘subtle.’

Unlike “Anodyne,” there’s no real sense of mystery or openness to interpretation in “Even the Ocean.” Its narrative tastes very dogmatic and fixed, while simultaneously presenting the player’s actions – through Aliph – as ultimately futile. There’s nothing wrong with using any or all of the game’s narrative themes to discuss historical, philosophical, or current events, but “Even the Ocean” makes the major faux pas of following the partisan line too closely, without producing any original arguments of its own.

A first-time blind run with no real effort to be speedy on my part took about 7 hours. However, based on the game’s achievement list, it seems that Analgesic wants players to run through “Even the Ocean” at least three times. This assumption comes from the fact that the game features three modes, a “Full” mode (which I played), which combines the game’s story segments and gameplay segments in the way they’re meant to be experienced; a “Story” mode, which cuts out the gameplay segments altogether; and a “Gauntlet” mode, which cuts out the story segments altogether. Combined with a couple of different speed-run options, achievement hunters could get quite a few more hours out of the game than I did, but ultimately, these achievements are pure padding and an incredibly lazy way of extending/wasting the player’s time with the game.

Gameplay
At its core, “Even the Ocean” is a puzzle platformer that relies on an original central gameplay mechanic, and builds a wide variety of puzzles upon that mechanic. The game is also fairly unique in the world of 2D platformers in that there are no acts of violence committed during normal gameplay. There are no enemies and Aliph never gains the ability to attack.

The central gameplay mechanic involves manipulating Light Energy and Dark Energy. Light Energy is represented as turquoise colored, while Dark Energy is fuchsia colored. Aliph doesn’t have a traditional health meter, but instead has a meter representing how much of each of the two energies she has absorbed. Absorbing more Light Energy allows Aliph to jump higher, while absorbing more Dark Energy allows her to move more quickly side-to-side and jump further. Energy in “Even the Ocean” is ultimately a zero-sum game, as absorbing energy of one type decreases the amount of Energy of the opposite type, resulting in a two-tone Energy meter that swings back and forth between being mostly Light and mostly Dark over the course of gameplay, with the caveat that completely filling it with either type of Energy results in death.

The other core gameplay mechanic that never changes is the presence of Aliph’s shield. This large, orange disc can deflect and reflect both types of Energy, and can be held facing any of the four cardinal directions. The player can furthermore hold down a button to “lock” the shield into a particular facing while still being able to move Aliph around. This shield, combined with the ability to wall-jump, is key to overcoming the game’s variety of puzzle rooms. The variety of puzzles presented throughout the game changes constantly, with frequent callbacks to earlier puzzle objects lumped together with new ones, resulting in gameplay that never has a chance to stagnate. And because nearly every room has a save point located within it, there is very little to lose by experimentation. Of course, experimentation is rarely required, as nearly every puzzle in “Even the Ocean” feels very intuitive and never took me more than two tries to figure out.

For those who do struggle with gameplay, though, “Even the Ocean” features a suite of options to make the game either more challenging or easier. Playing with the default settings, I found “Even the Ocean” to be a very ‘chill’ platformer suitable for folks of all skill levels.

Overall
“Even the Ocean” is a competent and enjoyable puzzle platformer, poorly held together by an unoriginal, preachy narrative. The interpretive surrealism that made “Anodyne,” the first game by this Indie studio, so compelling is gone, replaced by dry dogmatism that wears its meaning on its sleeve.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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