How to describe FJORDS without spoiling it? I could say “it is a videogame which contains jumping and doors and sometimes boats”, but that probably wouldn’t make you want to play it.
I could say “it is a videogame about when videogames go wrong, and making the best of that”, but that may make it sound like a mess, or arch, or both.
I could say “it has a certain amount in common with Fez” but as well as that encouraging inaccurate like-for-like comparison rather than simple evocation it’ll lead to a comments thread full of ranting about Phil Fish.
So instead I’ll just say “it is a videogame you have to figure out for yourself, but once you do you’re essentially making progress by turning off the bits of the world which impede you.” But that’s not right either.
Hum. Hmm. OK. Well, you nominally play a pizza delivery person, but that’s got almost nothing to do the with the game. What you do is to try to navigate strange, broken worlds made from floating platforms and waterfalls and glitchlike visual artifacts. Rather than jumping, you have a grappling hook, at least for a while. You must make your way to the other side of the screen, as the Gaming Ancients so long ago dictated. Soon enough, that simply isn’t possible.
Everything I say from here is something you can and probably should work out for yourself. That process won’t be an entirely intuitive one, but understanding and the pride which goes with that will be your reward.
Sadly, because as well as being difficult to describe without spoiling it, this is a paid game without a demo, so convincing you to put down $7 without being able to usefully tell you what it is puts us all in quite a bind. Let’s play for time with a trailer:
OK, here’s The Thing about Fjords. It contains computers, old-fashioned ones which require text-based input. The first thing you should do at one is type HELP, which will give you a list of available commands. You should then type HELP followed by the name of one of those commands. Then type one of those commands followed by one the variables the last command listed. Then type EXIT and see what has occurred.
Things will be different. Things will be even more different if you typed in multiple commands. Perhaps things will be different enough that the situation I mentioned four paragraphs ago, where further progress is apparently impossible, is no longer an issue. Perhaps, for instance, you typed SET WATERFALLS F. The F stands for False, and what that means is no more waterfalls. And what that means is that you can do the grappling hook thing across more of the level, without the risk of the instant death which results upon contact with waterfalls.
Perhaps, though, that won’t be enough for that screen, and so you should go back to the computer and try out new commands. Perhaps you’ll find the one which gives you a short of short-term magic carpet. Perhaps you will employ the ones which enable you to fall out of the screen and into new areas, as though you have broken the game (you have not broken the game). Perhaps you’ll feel confused and maddened, exasperated by a game which refuses to tell you anything about how its strange systems work and which requires a great deal of patience and consideration. That, of course, is why it is good.
Perhaps, in between trying to figure out that computer and how to overcome the ever-changing obstacles and further explore the ever-changing, ever-impossible world, you’ll just stay a while and gaze in quiet pleasure at the off-kilter prettiness of FJORD’s glitch-adorned minimalism and gently blippy music. I know I did.
FJORDS, by Kyle Reimergartin, is out now, and costs $7. I appreciate it will probably feel like a speculative purchase given it needs to be played to be usefully understood, and that it has little to offer those who seek instant gratification, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to inquiring minds.