Impressions: The Secrets Of Raetikon

By John Walker on January 9th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Ignore the terrible name – Secrets Of Raetikon is absolutely lovely. From And Yet It Moves developers Broken Rules, this serene action explorer gives you wings and lets you fly. Because you play a bird, see. Sorry metaphors. Just out on Steam’s Early Access, I’ve been having a splendid time. Here are my impressions so far.

Why aren’t all games about being a bird? Having spent a couple of days playing The Secrets Of Raetikon, it doesn’t make sense that there’s any other sort of game. Playing as a bird is best. It’s decided. We can stop arguing. Playing as a bird in this beautiful, calming and engrossing game is a proper, actual pleasure.

There’s not a great deal to explain about Raetikon. You’re a bird, you fly about collecting “slivers” – glowing collectables – that open up doorways and release shards. Shards are your main goal, taken back to the central hub, for… well, the alpha version of the game isn’t revealing that just yet. As you move around there are obstacles to pass, simple puzzles to solve, and animals with which to interact, or evade. Explaining it isn’t the interesting part – it’s how it goes about it that makes it feel so special.

The flying mechanic is the most crucial aspect, and it gets it spot on. Only taking a few minutes to master, you move with the left stick (a double-sticked gamepad is strongly recommended, although there are PC controls), and flap your wings with a button press. Timing this well creates smooth, slick movement, furthered by mastering riding the wind currents. There’s also a dive button that lets you plummet fast, ideal for getting through strong winds, and all combined creates some really very satisfying movement. You flit, swoop and dive, grabbing hold of rocks in your talons, or even better, bunny rabbits. (Help unite a male and female rabbit and they do as rabbits are wont to do, creating not only baby bunnies, but also more collectables for you to sweep up.)

Animal behaviour is another huge strength. Near the start you encounter lollopping rabits and tiny little birds, and it all seems so lovely. And I met my first bigger bird, and – OW! – it pecked me. In fact, some will grab you in their talons and ram you into spikey bushes. They’re absolute bastards. The jackal-like creatures that do you a lot more harm still seem less threatening, less malevolent, than those mean, horrid birds. It really feels as though they’re picking on me. My cries aloud tend toward, “OI! STOP IT! YOU’RE SO NASTY!”

It took me ages to realise I could fight back. It’s not simple, by any means. You are not equipped with any combative abilities, so defending yourself takes imagination. Which you can figure out for yourself, but it’s worth noting you can carry rocks, even design clumsy traps. In fact, a lot of the game is about that feeling of clumsiness, that feeling of being relatively helpless because you are, after all, just a bird. When manoeuvring objects, perhaps trying to rebuild a fallen statue, they swing heavily from beneath you, pulling your down as you frantically flap upward, forcing you to bump them off things to flip them about, roll them into place. And while I appreciate that might sound frustrating, it really does work here.

The farther you progress – and this first chapter isn’t enormous – the more tricky the game becomes. Where you go next is up to you, the game surprisingly open, but the farthest points from the hub are the toughest. Trying to do something about the many birds and beasts that wish to thwart your progress isn’t always the best bet – you’re fragile, and while they’re not strong, they’re equipped with offensive moves you lack. Sometimes rushing past, or dodging out the way, is the best bet. Actually taking them on can be surprisingly brutal too – while you’ll inevitably accidentally squish a rabbit by rolling a giant rock, and feel tremendously guilty for it, that’s nothing compared to seeing the wild, desperate flight of a half-dead enemy bird, as it wheels and spins, blood spurting. Nature, as we all know, is a dickhead. Raetikon wishes to make that clear.

There are many other surprises from the creatures, and I don’t wish to spoil them. Much of the game is really just about flying around, exploring, and looking for well-hidden slivers. Yellows for unlocking things, blues for gaining extra lives. And yes, in marked contrast to almost all of gaming now, there are lives. It’s odd. I’m not sure how I feel about it. You have plenty of them – you start with three, and gain three or four more very easily. Losing one sees you drop all the yellow slivers you were holding and returned to the hub, which means flying back to where you were to regather. It’s a chore, but then, it’s a punishment for death. But lose all the lives and that’s it – game over. Literally, those words on the screen like non-Rogue-like/lite games haven’t done for ages. I think games have evolved past this, it’s an anachronistic notion – why would anyone want to repeat progress from scratch, when they’ve 47 other unplayed games in their Steam library? Saying that, I lost all my lives because I’m RUBBISH, and immediately started playing again and doing a much better job of it.

My other major criticism, at this point in its development, is the lack of a map. It’s utter madness. It’s a large, sprawling world, with multiple secret tunnels and complex pathways to reach many different areas. It’s so simple to forget whether you finished collecting enough slivers to collect a shard in one area, when you’ve been distracted by something else far away, and there are so many directions to go in that retracing steps is a real chore. Just a simple map with a blip for discovered but uncollected shards seems so obvious, and it’s just plain weird that it’s absent. Especially for a directionless dullard like me.

But this really still is in development. While the team doesn’t plan to make this first chapter (of a planned three, if the first is successful enough to fund them) longer, they do plan to make it deeper. More involved, more to do in there, more animals, and perhaps a couple of new caves. But in its current form, it’s complete enough to provide some very entertaining play. And for just over a fiver, that’s the perfect price to forgive where it’s incomplete. It really is a tremendously joyful thing. When I first played it in the IGF first round judging I was immediately firing off IMs to any other gaming hack online, insisting that they give it a try. Now I’m doing the same to you – this is really rather lovely, and its simplicity, lack of overwhelming threat or massive difficulty levels, is a huge part of that loveliness.

Secrets Of Raetikon is now out on Steam’s Early Access for £5.24 (for another week, then £7), or you can get it DRM-free directly from their website for $10.

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29 Comments »

  1. The Army of None says:

    This game reminds me quite a lot of Tri-Achnid, that weird-clunky-but-also-really-cool flash game by McMillen. Might have to go buy this…

  2. Noviere says:

    I saw this, and it does look quite lovely. Will definitely pick it up when development is done.

  3. Viroso says:

    There’s this game I’ve been waiting forever to get greenlit and it never does, don’t think it ever will :(

    http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=93905552

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      J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      Good news! At the top of the page it says it was Greenlit!

      Thanks for plopping that game on my radar, looks lovely.

  4. Dharoum says:

    So seeing how this is all about flying around and smooth controls, how bad does this game become when you have to play with a keyboard and mouse?

    • Bernardo says:

      Bad. No WASD, which confuses me. And thus much less fluid. I need a gamepad with a stick to really enjoy it.

  5. Bernardo says:

    Yup, its a great game. Took it today from Humble Store and I’m flyyyyinnggg….

    Anyway, it’s not a terrible name; I feel it fits perfectly. Raetikon is this unbelievably stunning part of the Alps between Switzerland and Austria, with Liechtenstein in the middle. I had the impression that the game takes a lot of its aethetics from Swiss folk art and from the expressionist landscapes of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – this is really rooted in the area. I love to go hiking in the Alps, and flying through a more cubist version is fine by me!

    I also like the animals. I killed the first rabbit I saw accidentally, and it was gruesome; I really felt sorry. Second time, I entrapped it between two rocks, and he seems to have committed suicide…

    • John Walker says:

      Well, two things.

      1) X of Y is always a crappy name, ensuring it’s difficult to remember.
      2) Raetikon, spelt correctly, has a letter in it 99% of people don’t know how to type.

      • kwyjibo says:

        X of Y is the definitive Dota clone.

      • loquee says:

        For “æ” hold ALT key while typing 0230

        Austrian Game Devs seem to obsessed with this.
        Another Early Access game from Vienna is called:
        “Ærena – Clash of Champions” ( ALT + 0198 for Æ )

        and like Secrets of Ræticon which I instantly fell in love with (as you can see from my steam review for it :) )
        it’s also quite awesome!

        Disclaimer: I´m with the Dev of the second one :)

        • Bernardo says:

          But Secrets of Rätikon is spelled with the Umlaut, no?

        • jo-shadow says:

          Or a bit easier to remember on a mac, just alt+’ gives æ and alt+shift+’ gives Æ :)

      • Bernardo says:

        Sorry, I just realised its really that strange æ loquee and harmon mentioned, which doesn’t really make sense. The region is spelled with ä – Rätikon.

        • loquee says:

          Yes, you are right about the spelling of the region, that one is Rätikon.
          Maybe it is supposed to look mysterious written like that.
          At least for me as native German speaker it does.
          I think they succeeded when it comes to getting attention with the name alone, if that does them a favour or not is questionable since the game on it’s own already stands out enough.

          • Ny24 says:

            It’s not only supposed to be a “ä”, it is a “ä”. Because in German ae = ä the same as ue = ü and oe = ö. It’s like that in every crossword and I always write those letters like that when i correspond with overseas and have to write names of towns or similiar things.

  6. Dozer says:

    If only you could talk to the foxes. What does the fox say?

  7. kwyjibo says:

    Are games about being birds better than games about being badgers?

  8. mukuste says:

    And Yet It Moves seemed to get all that praise heaped on it, yet when I got around to playing it, it felt really clunky and unpolished. It sounds like they got the movement down this time, yes?

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      Hypocee says:

      Very much so. Secrets is a not-so-secret cheeky ‘spiritual successor’ to console exclusive Chasing Aurora, which applied the same flight model to, essentially, local-multiplayer tag. I’ve been hands-on with that and it felt great. I surprised myself with how awful I was at it, but that’s a separate matter.

  9. harmen says:

    The trailer reminds me of Aquaria.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Tom De Roeck says:

    I have a couple of friends at Broken Rules.

    That being said, didnt this game totally bomb on the WiiU? as far as I know, it was boring shite, according to some reviewers. Or did they patch it to enjoyability?

  11. egg-zoo-bear-ant will e 91 says:

    Shame its not 3D with a little more physics.