High Strangeness Review

Double your pleasure, Double your fun

Playing action-role playing games for the last 20 years, I’ve played my fair share of amazing titles. I have also scraped the bottom of the barrel of that genre. High Strangeness, the second game from Barnyard Intelligence Games, falls somewhere in the middle. It starts out with a lot of promise — strange story, topical humor, and a wonderful graphics swapping mechanic — but never finds its stride. When the highs hit, they soar, but when the lows hit, they drag you down.

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Strangeness is definitely felt in the story. You take control of a cynical teenager named Boyd, who you fail to like throughout the course of the game. His narcissistic attitude grinds on the this surprisingly short story. You’re accompanied by your cat Abydos, a smart ass who can talk with people. As Boyd, you are destined to save the world from The Shadowmen, a group of hooded demons that are behind all atrocities throughout human history. You are tasked with collecting seven crystal skulls to destroy the opposition.

Gameplay is fairly simple with only using two buttons.  One serves as your main weapon, a flashlight. You can upgrade it to pull off combos and deal more damage. The second is for a variety of different power ups. Your standard fare for video games but with a childlike twist. Instead of bombs, you have firecrackers, instead a boomerang to stun enemies, you have CDs. Some of the crystal skulls you collect also serve as shields. Different skulls have different protection abilities, whether it’s placing a shield or creating a protective sphere. All of these can be upgraded in the games simple upgrade system. When you kill enemies they drop different colored eyes. Red restores health, while green restores your stamina bar. Each eye collected is used upgrading your weapon and abilities. Using these depletes your stamina, so players don’t just spam the specials and attack button. Combat isn’t very responsive when attacking all types of enemies. When you hit the target it turns red and loses life but it just keeps coming at you.

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Now the real hook of the game comes from the duality of two different generations of graphics. You can switch between 8- and 16-bit graphics on the fly to solve puzzles and overcome the games many obstacles. Puzzles are a plenty in this retro throwback. Sadly the puzzles are not that demanding. I’m not known for my brains, but even I could solve these at a quick glance. Gameplay also changes between the two styles. True to their respective generations, gameplay and action are quite limited on the 8-bit side, while the 16-bit is more combo based and you can move in nine directions instead of four like in the 8-bit world.

The games art style is absolutely wonderful. It shows how far the two generations were apart from each other. The transition between the two is akin to the transitions on Super Nintendo games. More impressive is the chiptune soundtrack accompanied with the game. It creates an atmosphere of excitement and fun. It was easily one of the highpoints of this wonderful journey. Possibly the most impressive aspect of this game is its humor. The entire game is extremely well written but the humor is the stand out. Sometimes the referential humor comes off as witty satire. Its pacing is quite fast because of how disappointing the length of the game is. It took around six hours to best The Shadowmen and their puzzles, but I was left wanting more. The story just kept getting better. Although, Boyd was sadly one of the worst characters I’ve played in a game in recent memory.

The Verdict: 7.9 out of 10

All in all, this game left a great lasting impression on me. I do hope for a sequel to right the wrongs of this adventure. Great music, two brilliant art styles, and a hilarious story that engulfed me are reasons to at least give this game a shot. Though wonky combat and simple puzzles don’t put up much of a challenge, there is fun to be had, and it won’t take much to enjoy this game.

For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.


Bryan McCutchan retro games and new games inspired by retro aesthetics, say hey on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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