By: Matthew Striplen
You are all alone when suddenly, the power goes out. You search for the fuse box, but instead discover a portal to a gorgeous 8-bit world filled with magic, music and monsters in Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus.
Almost everything in Teddy handles very well. Everything feels tight enough to accurately control the character, even when running and jumping across platforms. However, the combat isn’t quite as good. Players can’t move and attack simultaneously, which is one of my personal pet peeves. A lunging strike can be executed when sprinting, but it still cancels any movement commands.
Teddy‘s aesthetic presentation is by far the game’s strongest suit. The breathtaking pixel art never disappoints. Every inch of the screen teems with detail and color. The characters’ animations are fluid and organic looking, or at least as organic as an 8-bit game ever will be. There’s simply not enough praise to be given to Teddy‘s visual performance.
The sound design takes a few more liberties from the 8/16-bit approach, yet still retains its nostalgic charm. Though most sounds still have that distinctive compressed quality, the music features more live sounding instruments. Music even plays a greater role in this game than just a soundtrack, which I’ll discuss later.
Teddy drops the player into a classic “Metroidvania” style game. For the uninitiated, Metroidvania games draw inspiration from the Metroid/Castlevania franchises, which feature non-linear gameplay and a few RPG elements, among other aspects.
The plot is a little thin. Most of the exposition is laid out in one huge text crawl at the beginning. In a nutshell, King Tarant of Exidus has been overthrown and his spirit now possesses the player’s teddy bear. It’s up to us to restore the good king to power.
Other than the initial chunk of text, not much instruction is given to the player. This harkens back to the original Legend of Zelda, where gamers had to teach themselves how to play through exploration. However, this concept is hit-or-miss in execution, and the player will often feel a lack of direction and momentum in some of the less well designed segments.
When this mechanic works well, the reward of figuring something out on your own is certainly greater than being constantly spoon fed, but feeling stuck and frustrated can be even worse than spoon feeding. Since many modern games tend to hold the player’s hand too much, the lack of instruction is initially refreshing but ultimately works against itself.
Easily the most unique component of Teddy is the Musicom: a musical device used to communicate with the inhabitants of Exidus through tone combinations. Each tone is represented by a rune, though a single tone or rune does not carry a specific meaning. Words are added to your Lexicon by meeting new NPCs and memorizing their speech. However, the words can only be reproduced if the player possesses the correct rune keys.
Initially, the Musicom comes without any runes installed, so it’s up to the player to find them. The Lexicon contains a massive amount of words, almost all of which play a vital role on completing the quest. Unfortunately, the player can’t view the Lexicon and play the Musicom at the same time, so be prepared to do lots of page flipping.
Although much of the action revolves around platforming, be ready for combat at any moment. Fighting reminds me a lot of Zelda II, which is not a good thing. You start with just a trusty sword and shield, which can be thrust in the four cardinal directions. However, you can only strike up and down while airborne, just like in Link.
The sword starts out as a stubby little thing, which means you have to get very close in order to hit anything. Also, enemies do not receive hit-stun but still receive a period of invulnerability. This results in the player constantly taking damage, especially if the foe has a shield of their own.
Speaking of the shield, it’s nearly impossible to use. The shield only held up when standing perfectly still, but even then you can still take damage from enemies walking into you. Having a designated shield button would’ve been much preferred. These issues are remedied slightly by purchasing upgrades in the item shop, but they’re never fully eradicated.
Visually, Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus is flawless, and the Musicom a much needed freshness to a classic genre. That being said, the lack of instruction, while refreshing at first, is the source of much stagnation — especially since players will already be doing lots of backtracking. Still, if you’re looking for a visually stunning adventure, Harmony of Exidus is worth a try.