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Mario And Dear Esther Walk Into An Absinthe Bar: Spate

A prime vacation destination if I've ever seen one.

Spate looks positively bonkers. I mean that both in terms of the gloriously bizarre sensibilities that peer – with one lidless, unblinking eye – from the depths of its island’s mysterious nethers and the relative sanity of its grief-stricken main character. He’s a noir detective who’s dealing with the death of his daughter, so he’s taken up a powerful absinthe habit to numb the pain. Naturally, it manifests as a gameplay mechanic. “At the click of a button the character can take a swig of absinthe. This temporarily gives the player higher jumping and faster running abilities. But, it also makes him hallucinate, which changes the world both visually and physically. The mechanic is meant to mirror the emotional seesaw battle of drinking.” Heavy stuff. Perhaps too heavy? I suppose we’ll see. For now, though, peep a couple of incredibly impressive-looking trailers after the break.

So basically, Spate’s about an increasingly vicious tug-of-war between main character Detective Bluth’s deteriorating emotional state and his duty to uncover what’s causing so many disappearances on the island, all wrapped in a wildly psychedelic steampunk shell. The probable moral(s) of the story? Alcoholism is bad and mysterious islands have literally never, ever, ever yielded anything good. Sounds like a positively magical (and/or heartbreaking) combination.

This part, however, is what really made my all-scanning Fascination Sensors go completely haywire:

“Yes there are really fun action platforming areas in Spate. But there are also parts where the player just travels through the world. I compare these parts to long shots in movies. The average shot in a film is three seconds. As viewers, when we see a shot go past a minute without cutting, it has an emotional effect on us (think ‘Children of Men’). It sucks us in. It makes us alert. It makes us think without being forced to think. And it turns out that we’re happy to!”

Yes. Very good. OK. Here, let me get your bags. Come in, videogame. We are best friends now.

Spate could well end up incredibly heavy handed, but I very much like what I’m seeing so far. The vibe and general tone strike me as oppressively strange (in a good way), but Detective Bluth’s story has me prepared to pick up some steel reinforcements for my heartstrings. Those two elements combined have “memorable” written all over them, assuming they’re each executed with proper panache.

My greatest concern for this exceedingly ambitious platform adventure? The, er, platforming. I see many sawblades, improbable gaps, and other tropes of the like. Granted, Spate’s psychedelic angle makes it significantly less detrimental to believably (and honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen someone get inspired by that aspect of Mario before), but designing an enjoyable platformer and writing a strong story are two incredibly different skills. If it’s a chore to play, well, I doubt I’ll be sticking around for the riveting conclusion.

We’ll see, though. Spate’s set to wash ashore sometime during the third quarter of this year. It’s also leaping through hoops on Steam Greenlight at the moment, if you’d like to give it a little push.

Thanks, Indie Statik.

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Nathan Grayson

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