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Capsized Review (XBLA)

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Return of the H.E.R.O.

If you caught that reference, then you’re probably about as old as I am. If not, it’s worth checking out H.E.R.O. just for a gaming history touchstone. In fact, I think there is a version on XBLA’s game room. What does this have to do with Capsized? The experience of playing both games was very similar to me, and I mean that with high praise. You play as an astronaut surviving a crash on a alien world, and all you want to do is fix your ship and get out.

Capsized is a 2D platformer/shooter where you use the tools available to work your way to the end of the level. They give some cool tools to play with, including the uber-versatile gravity gun. Not only does Capsized have you solving puzzles with it, but you can swing around the levels like Spider-Man, and in couch co-op, you can grab an enemy in a gravity bubble while your partner shoots it full of holes. Developers Alientrap played around a bit with the standard 2D level design, making some crushingly tight and the latter levels really vertical.  The level objectives have some variance; throwing “kill these” or “collect those” into the mix in addition to “find the exit.” You have a set amount of lives starting out, and Capsized is pretty liberal with giving you the opportunity to earn more. I liked that dispatched aliens stay dead, provided you’ve got more lives to fall back on. This puts the focus slightly more on exploration than combat, which made Capsized more enjoyable.The enemies will mob up out of nowhere and blend right into the back ground until they’re aggravated.  The hand-drawn art style, while setting Capsized apart from standard gaming fare, made it difficult to tell where and what would be hostile.

 Capsized What's with the bubbles? ... Oh, God it's looking at me!

What’s with the bubbles? Oh, god, it’s looking at me!

Capsized was released on Steam two years back, and the control shift is the same as it ever was. WASD translates to the left stick, and the mouse becomes the right. I know some purists will swear by the superiority of the keyboard/mouse combo, but I had no problems playing on an Xbox controller. I would even say mapping the gravity boost to a click of the stick made the controls more intuitive. Play tip for everyone: get good with the gravity boost in the early levels – the extra mobility it provides becomes crucial to survival in the later levels.

Alientrap did some cool things with the art in Capsized. First, they used color palettes level by level to denote the passage of time. Our unlucky spaceman is stuck on the hostile alien world for about three days by my count, with the verdant green of the daytime contrasted by the red-orange of sunset. Additionally, the comic panels that bookend levels were done completely dialogue free, using the characters’ facial expressions and body language to convey the drama.

What do you have on your face, is that a cheese grater?

What do you have on your face? Is that a cheese grater?

Let me digress on that for a moment. Using no written language was a brilliant design choice by Alientrap because it makes the game more accessible to an international audience. It’s the exact reason why back in the cradle of gaming, Japanese and American games were just as successful abroad as they were at home. Technical limitations of the time made this a necessity, and then, as our tools got better, we started putting our cultural hand prints all over everything. In recent years, we’ve seen a shift back to basics, especially outside the AAA developers, which caused the kudzu of casual and indie gaming. Think about what I said in the context of Angry Birds or Minecraft.  In the online world of globalization that we live in, I think the trend is going to continue to grow stronger, and unless you have the budget for localization, games will have to be designed around this principle.

It IS a cheese grater.

It IS a cheese grater.

Capsized began life as a student project.  I think we’ll refer to it as the “portal pedigree” from now on. Alientrap has come a long way from student housing and ramen to publishing their first game on XBLA and Steam. I can’t wait for the next project by Alientrap, Apotheon. It’s going to be a Metroid-vania action platformer with an art style reminiscent of ancient Greek pottery.

Capsized is a fun retro romp and a great way to decompress.  It’s nice to see games that are just for fun without being childish.

FTG Rating 8.5

For another XBLA title worth checking out beyond Capsized, check out Sacred Citadel.