By: Casey Curran
I find it odd that a game called High Strangeness takes quite a few visual cues from Earthbound while not even being half as strange as the SNES classic. Though it did have me fighting multiple Grim Reapers off by swinging a flashlight, a very strange setup, I find it thoroughly bizarre that it would ape the visual style of one of the weirdest video games with the title it chose. Could this strange choice be part of the high strangeness of High Strangeness? Probably not, but I have to think about something when a game hits its low points.
While High Strangeness loves aping both 8- and 16-bit games, it unfortunately didn’t modernize its controls as much as it should. Had it not been for the switch between looking like an 8-bit and 16-bit game (an idea unfathomable at the time), I could easily mistake this as a game from the area. There’s a slightly clunky feel to moving around and combat, while the sub-weapons provide little feedback. Throwing a stone or dropping dynamite just feels like an object flew through the screen or appeared rather than my character threw or dropped it.
The game has two graphic modes: 8- and 16-bit style. It goes for the minimum of each, looking like a bad NES game and an average SNES game graphically. Fortunately, however, the vast majority of the game is spent in the 16-bit style of game which has a pretty great style to it. The fog effects and enemy design generate a great, creepy sense that clashes surprisingly well with the goofiness of the game.
This is partly due to how the game leans farther towards goofy than creepy, so the look of the giant monsters makes the fact that you’re beating them by swinging a flashlight like a sword seem just that much stranger. Sound effects feel like standard 16-bit fare, basically cloning what we saw 13 years ago in A Link to the Past. Music is as forgettable as music gets.
Half of High Strangeness wants to be The Legend of Zelda, while the other half wants to be Earthbound, though with each packaged into a more linear style of game. The game simply moves you from one location to another rather than giving a giant overworld to explore, but it is based around roaming strange towns with quirky characters and solving puzzles based on what items you have.
The town aspects feel like little more than a bunch of fetch quests interconnected. Meanwhile, the story is barely serviceable with little humor to the writing and an unfocused plot. There’s not much interesting here.
Puzzle sections at least fare a little better with some fun ideas. Rather than offering a high variety of puzzles, however, the game seems content with introducing a puzzle and repeating it with more variables, but not feeling that much more complex, and then finally move on to another. Puzzles also have a knack for not quite mixing with the mechanics that well.
For instance, I was supposed to throw a stone while standing on a switch. Said stone would ricochet from one target to another. However, the first target was off screen and the stone would not hit there if I was on the switch. So I would have to get the target on the screen, and then rush back to the switch while the camera followed the stone rather than my character. That means to get on the switch in time relied solely on guesswork. Instances like this were too frequent in the game, making many feel like duds.
Combat appears in both sections and has a weird, clunky feel to it. The flashlight has a short radius, making me constantly unsure if I’d hit the enemy I wanted. This is not helped by how close you have to be to the enemy, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to hit an enemy without taking damage yourself. Sub-weapons can help this by stunning enemies or hitting them from far away, but using them on every encounter gets tedious quickly.
For all the faults of High Strangeness, none were ever enough to make me legitimately dislike the game. I just got bored with it and never really left that zone at all. A strong art style aside, there is just nothing memorable about this title.