Wot I Think: AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!

By Kieron Gillen on September 9th, 2009 at 11:46 am.


Dejobaan’s indie-points-chaser is a free-jumping mentalist. The full version is $15. I had to explore. The dark urges made me do it. Here’s Wot I Think…

It’s quite the thing. “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity” to give it its full title, Aaaaa! to give it its shortened title and Aaa(Snip!-Ed) to give it what we’ll be calling it, is this year’s Trials 2. That being a hyper-punishing, score-chasing laugh riot which you will adore. No, I think you’ll find you will.

What I think I like most about Aaa(Snip!-Ed) is its developer, Dejobaan’s mix of sheer, fearless personality while not letting it impinge upon the actual game. For example, take its start. Dejobaan logo. A claim of having made games for decades. A big late-90s chuggy guitar, an enormous logo pulsing in time and a processed-voiced female monologue informing us that…

In the year of our Lord, Nineteen Eighty Two, Polystructures fell from space. Massive but light, they touched the atmosphere, and stuck.
Scientists made new materials. Builders made new cities. Families made their homes thousands of feet above ground level.
Art made the floating super-sculptures, and culture made the floating caviar socials to regard them.
In the year of our Lord, Twenty Eleven, you cannot look up from beneath a city and see the stars.
But you can look down from above it. And you can jump.
The jumps you make are not about art. They are about a reckless disregard for safety.
The jumps you make are not about culture. They are about a reckless disregard for regulation.
The jumps you make are not about science. They are about a reckless disregard for gravity.

Which is frankly an insta-classic opening on-par with SHODAN at the start of System Shock 2. Also, a fine example of the mad joy of creating a fictional wrapper for a game that requires none, just because it’s funny, just because thinking of how something like this could happen is holy. But most key – it’s a monologue over the start screen. You can go and start a new game whenever you like, or sit back and be serenaded. Wankier people would have made it a cut scene. Wankier people should sling their hook.

It’s a game about a reckless regard for gravity. Base-jumping with a sci-fi/fantasy twist. You make your way from the top to the bottom of a series of impossible structures, trying to maximise your points score. Dejobaan do everything to maximise the scoring possibilities. The basics are kisses and hugs, respectively scored for getting in the vicinity of a structure once and scoring as you stay close to any structure. Score-plates float in space, breaking when you hit them and rewarding points. Other methods unlock as your progress, such as colliding with birds, grafitting certain buildings and performing thumbs up or flicking the finger at spectators who are either for or against you. Manage to deploy to parachute and land in a specified area, there’s a bonus. Thread the needle – as in, zoom through a very long and thin bit – and that’s another one. There’s also things like bounce-pads and teleporters to try and maximise your scores.

Of course, if you hit anything, your bones have an exciting new existence as paste.

Since you have this freedom of movement and a variety of methods, it’s actually a game as much about exploration as pure reactions. Looking around and working out what’s the best way to raise your points at any fall is paramount. Of course, also being able to nip around skillfully isn’t exactly of no importance. It’s not anywhere near as death-happy as Trials – but since there’s no save points mid-fall, it really couldn’t be. Generally speaking, the missions are short enough so the instant-kill isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a boon. And, much like Trials 2, a cause of comedy.

However, being a 3D environment, it’s here where the level design skills of Dejobaan are brought right to the fore. They’re careful in providing clues to what may or may not be a good route to take. Higher scoring crash-pads lead you towards interesting places, and often are placed to even suggest the sort of swaying rhythm a level is trying to encourage. Still – you musn’t underestimate the puzzling, deductive part of the game. When you’re scoring two stars on a course, you play a free-falling Sherlock Holmes, trying to work out whatever it is you could be missing.

The larger structure takes the form of an enormous mass of levels, arranged in a cylinder, which you can rotate and unlock with the points you’ve scored. It’s given guidance by both the increasing level of points required to open levels – so eventually encouraging you to go back and try and five-star a previous course – and the fact you can only unlock levels which you’ve already unlocked an adjacent one. In terms of organising progress, I think this is always a particularly strong one, in that it allows a player to try and improve themselves anywhere across the entire game to push on further. You’re not stuck on a single level, banging your head against a wall. And that’d be literally, in the case of Aaa(Snip!-Ed).

There’s also extras worked into the cube-cylinder. Tips are shown there, but there’s unlockable abilities – the caffine-high which slows down the game matrix-style for tricky parts, most notably – and even little snatches of surrealistic monologue comedy for your pleasure. It’s worth a note on the comedy stylings of the game, which are clearly a product of the world which begat them. Put it like this: I wasn’t surprised when 4Chan got name-checked. There’s a few misses. There’s some stuff which hits an YTMNDistic stance, which is less comedy, more badge of otherness. There’s some stuff which is total RPS-top-bar-gag-nonsense. And there’s some stuff which is genuinely, splendidly funny (The anti-relaxation tape monologue: applause for that one, chaps). It’s the game which you can see most of the developers inner-workings since Space Giraffe. I like that.

But fundamentally, they keep all that in the presentation. The game – bar the surrealistic style it embraces – focuses in on the actual joy of defying gravity and the fragility of meaty, pulpy flesh.

My reservations are primarily in what it’s missing. The team, clearly working on a tight budget, appear to have focused in on what they could pull of perfectly rather than over-reaching. Which is sensible, but the thing which may keep it away from Trial-esque mass-success is that a fatal collision just ends the game with a sudden spark. Trials 2, with its rag-dolling falling about post-fuck-up, lightened failure. Failure was a joy. As such, occasionally Aaa(Snip!-Ed) feels like it’s lacking a punchline. While rag-dolling may be beyond their technical abilities, since they have a character bouncing off stuff after collisions in play, continuing to bounce helplessly after you’re dead – whilst staying in the first person – may have added some more pay-off.

The second problem is that it lacks what most of its modern score-chasing peers – Audiosurf, Trials 2- have embraced. That is, an online leaderboard. It’s the sort of thing which would have helped cement the game’s community, and it’s distinctly lacking. The game does mitigate against its effects. More than either of the aforementioned games, Aaa(Snip!-Ed) offers a structured single-player experience to work through, and chasing after five-stars on individual levels – with the reward of unlock points – is highly compulsive. But I think it’d have been better with both.

UPDATE: Captain Hairy in the comments thread says: “There is an online leaderboard. Both the top 5 shortlist in game, and also a full listing you can access through the Steam Community profile page.” The review code wasn’t actually integrated with Steam, so we didn’t have that. Pah. Yet also, Hurrah!

The demo’s available here, and the full game can be bought for fifteen of your Earth dollars. It’s a personable, compulsive and characterful game which has taken a simple concept and ran with it, with all its heart. My list of notes while playing were scattershot – Blob, The Fifth Element videogame Jim used to be into, That Ballistics game Jim used to be obsessed by, Wipeout, Blue Jam, Jet Set Radio Future – and that it recalls so much shows exactly how much life there is in it. It’s a a game which doesn’t let anything – least of all gravity – hold it down.

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42 Comments »

  1. CMaster says:

    Really enjoyed the demo. My main question is if the full game really offers that much more?

  2. Schaulustiger says:

    I wonder why they didn’t use the Steam framework for online leaderboards. From what I understand it’s rather simple to implement and – as you said – it would’ve been a great addition.

  3. CaptainHairy says:

    There is an online leaderboard. Both the top 5 shortlist in game, and also a full listing you can access through the Steam Community profile page.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    How annoying. It’s not in the review code, which operates outside of Steam.

    KG

  5. Film11 says:

    Indeed. Along with achievements, getting the game on Steam is an absolute must, at least for the online scoreboard.

  6. Naiive Melody says:

    This game was *excellent* but I was disappointed that there’s no real rewards beyond buying things. I finally got enough teeth to unlock the last video, watched it, and that was that for the game. It took me about 5 hours, and I enjoyed it, and I may go back to score attack, but honestly I just don’t find score attacking fun. There aren’t that many different jumps in the game, and they’re all basically the same.

    The difference is, with Trials 2, the challenge wasn’t times but it was just completing the level in some cases – though in the new Trials HD it’s partially about getting the medals (based off time and number of restarts), I suppose. Even then I really care more about finishing the levels, and it took me a *long* time to finish them. With Aaaaa!, just playing the levels takes about 4 hours (I took another hour trying to score attack to gain enough teeth to unlock others).

    I do basically think I got $15 out of the game, though. Now, what I want to know is what happened to references to a level editor that were in the pre-release builds.

  7. Dzamir says:

    I hope for an iPhone version

  8. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Kieron, just a hunch, but I recently managed to aquire a copy of Phonogram (good stuff). Do you by any chance know a PnP called Unknown Armies?

  9. Lack_26 says:

    Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

    That was fun, but I’m worried about the longevity of the game, for $15 or (£9 in real money) I could get PC Gamer and a pint (or maybe two). Okay, perhaps it is worth the money, but we’ll see.

  10. qrter says:

    Really enjoy this game. Highly recommended. Very funny game too, sort of reminds me of the 2000 AD/Judge Dredd universe.

    I preordered it through Dejobaan’s own site and when I asked if I could possibly get a Steam key (I preordered about a week before the Steam option became available), this was no problem it all, which is such a lovely gesture – it would’ve been completely understandable/acceptable if they’d declined.

  11. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I enjoyed the demo but I think it’s the type of title that will get a good steam weekend special so I’ll wait for a while.

  12. Dopefish says:

    Good read. Personally, my biggest issue was the lack of a sense of vertigo.

  13. Glove says:

    Really well-written review; seems like I’ll have to buy this as soon as exams blow over.

  14. Markoff Chaney says:

    Absolutely fantastic game. I pre-ordered this from Dejobaan and didn’t even consider asking for a Steam key, since I prefer the DRM free version I got from the developer. Having online leaderboards sounds quite fun, though, so maybe I’ll see if they can part with a Steam activation code for me as well.

    Aaaaa really scratches quite a few of my gaming itches and brings out the optimizer in me that I usually reserve for my turn based step games like DROD. Everyone should, at a minimum, try out the generous demo.

  15. Xocrates says:

    I bought the game on pre-order (hey, it had a discount and a free game. How could I not?) and must say I was pleasantly surprised. The game can be pretty addicting in the “just one more try” kind of category, although having to pretty much grind previous levels in order to unlock the last few ones can get annoying (it particularly annoyed me that I had to unlock a video with what points I had in order to be able to reach the last two levels (which I haven’t unlocked yet because I don’t have the points :/ ))

    Also, is it just me or at the current rate within a couple of years time people will start to complain a game costing less that 5$ is too expensive ?

  16. Kieron Gillen says:

    Jochen: I am. When we announced Phonogram it was one of the first things which some people brought up. I bought a copy after we finished the run and had a nose. Fun stuff. Hilariously, if Phonomancers fit into the mage side, the other pitch I was considering at the same time was basically similar to the Avatar concepts. I suspect the designers and I have read the same books.

    KG

  17. DF7 says:

    Its an addictive game. I keep getting drawn back to it and I’m not sure why. Well worth the purchase price.

    Also, since Dejobaan is following me around the internets, hi Dejobaan!

  18. Sagan says:

    Over the last couple of days I recommended this game to all of my friends.

    I just finished the game, and I’m kind of disappointed it’s over. It feels a little like the game was too easy. Which it wasn’t. The later levels got really hard. But I never had to play a level again after finishing it. So it feels like I was just sweeping through the game, which feels a little disappointing. And I’m not someone who pursues highscores just for the sake of doing it. I need to get an in-game reward for doing it. So now I’m through with the game, and I don’t want to be.

    Also I was always hoping for a really really long level, which never came. Something that lasts 15 minutes or half an hour. I was hoping for the same thing with The Wonderful End of the World, except I wanted it to be an hour long in that game.

  19. Xocrates says:

    @Sagan: A 15-30 minutes level would require to be so easy as to become boring, otherwise it would shatter the souls of even the most manly of men and the world would soon be overrun by the shallow empty shells of those who crashed with the ending in sight or missed the landing plate.

  20. gryffinp says:

    Mmmm. I do think the only thing I would change about the game is adding hilarious bouncing after impact.

  21. Sagan says:

    @Xocrates: I don’t think it would have to be. Since players can just fly around all obstacles, they could make it as hard as they want to. The player can always choose to simply avoid all the hard parts. You just don’t get as many kisses that way.
    I just want something where it feels like I can keep on falling forever. But it should not actually be endless, as I want to be able to finish it.

    But these are just personal tastes. And there are probably technical limitations to how large a map can be. That was just the one thing that was missing for me.

    By the way does anyone know which is the largest map?

  22. Xocrates says:

    @Sagan: In which case what you want is not really a “level”, but a sort of freeplay mode. Having a ludicrously long level makes no sense if you actually bypass it by going away of the obstacles.

    The idea of a continuous free-fall mode with no score makes a lot more sense under your specifications (which brings me to mind: A survival mode where you try to survive as long as possible. That could be cool)

  23. Ichiro Lambe says:

    TEXT IS SO 2009! It’s 2009. Videos are so 2003 Here, we decided to experiment and reply via video.

  24. CMaster says:

    That video is very fuzzy. Quite awesome though.

  25. Vinraith says:

    It’s a great little game, I’m glad I preordered it. Much like Plants vs. Zombies I can only play it in short spurts, but they’re great spurts.

    And the sense of humor is great. Keep it up Dejobaan, but try to increase your productivity a little. I mean, 2 games in 75 years? What are you, Valve?

  26. Ichiro Lambe says:

    > Keep it up Dejobaan, but try to increase your productivity a little. I mean, 2 games in 75 years? What are you, Valve?

    Naw. But until this game, we were just 2 people. :)

  27. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    It doesn’t contain the famous quote of yours from the email you sent me, too bad. Nice Wot I think, I only wish someone would have told me there are online leaderboards over at Steam, it’s not mentioned anywhere…Nowhere visible anyway. Oh well, at least I have it ” client free”.

    The cookie monologue is brutal and also Mevin is just…just…unique. In a way you want to push him over the edge of the highest damn building WITHOUT a ‘chute and give him a radio award at the same time. “Having handed him a radio award I pushed him over the edge” – oh the joys of morphology…

    You’re completely right about that insta-kill thingie. It’s similar to Burnout Paradise, where everything is relatively short, so it’s not much of a problem when you screw up; unlike Fuel, when repeating an race/challenge is pretty annoying and I can’t really talk myself into playing.

    This game is teh shite for my resumed exam period, it relaxs me as I approach the very last exam of this semester.. Comparison to Blob and Wipeout fits.

  28. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    2Ichiro:
    What led you to the decision to alter the Triple Espresso thingie? I myself prefer the slo-mo, but I’m curious…

  29. Manburger says:

    Lovely video response! This sort of personal engangement with the community really warms the frosty valves of my icy heart. I really liked the demo of Aaaaa!, and it is definitively a game I’ll be purchasing when I start making some money.

  30. Sagan says:

    Thanks for the awesome video response. It’s… awesome?

  31. army of none says:

    Just bought the game on steam five minutes ago. W00t!

  32. Ichiro Lambe says:

    Thanks, guys. :)

    Frankie> What led you to the decision to alter the Triple Espresso thingie? I myself prefer the slo-mo, but I’m curious…

    8 hours left until we needed to submit the build. Dan, our Gameplay guy, looks up, and it’s clear that he knows the game really well. We’ve all gotten to know the game well.

    I ask myself, “Does Espresso make the game that much harder? What if we made it help the player?”

    I think it worked out.

  33. TRJP says:

    I’ve been playing this non-stop since release and I love it.

    It’s the perfect blend of simplicity, stupidity and just-one-more-goability which is missing in so many releases atm.

    I cannot recommend it enough…

  34. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Thx for the reply! I couldn’t possibly agree more; it really works perfectly as a red panic button and a stress reliever..

  35. Markoff Chaney says:

    Fantastic response. :) It’s always so wonderful to see developers that care and reach out to their communities. May your founding and janitorial duties continue long into the future with our support. Much Love.

  36. Cycle says:

    Don’t let the comparisons to Trials 2 put you off people, this game is actually really rather good.

  37. luminosity says:

    I was wavering on buying this, until I watched that video. Sold!

  38. qrter says:

    Such a great way to respond. Classy.. :)

  39. Lack_26 says:

    Played some more this morning, triple the amount of ‘e’ on the end of my “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” comment. I’m totally buying this now.

  40. bill says:

    Not to negative, but isn’t this game the same as ScrewJumper? The screenshots look almost identical, and the gameplay sounds the same.

    I’m hoping it’s a lot better though, as ScrewJumper was one of the only games to get removed from InstantAction, and having played it, i could see why.

  41. sfury says:

    Good stuff!

  42. Bassem B. says:

    I’ve been a fan of Dejobaan since Ganymede Rage / Inago Rage, and Epidemic Groove. Fun, fun games and a funky attitude by the company themselves. I should catch up with their new projects. There was something about an organic airship or such…

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