Monday, September 7, 2009

Demo Monday: Aaaaaaaaaaa! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity

pre_release_released-727992 I don’t feel like an introductory vamp today – let it be said that I am talking about the demo for Dejobaan Games’ latest title, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! These people were also responsible for the Katamari Damacy-flavored The Wonderful End of the World, so I suppose they have some “cred” as the kids say.

First thing about this game: Their cutesy title has made it virtually impossible to write about, talk about, or find via Google search without the use of the subtitle. Was it worth it, guys? Luckily, once you actually find and start playing the game, the rest of its writing is generally better thought-out. It’s a little “look at us being clever over here” but mostly it’s pretty funny. Also reasonably entertaining is the fellow who does most of the voicework for the game, a guy who sounds like a late-night disc jockey who doesn’t expect very many people to be listening in at this hour.

The basics: Jump off the top of a building, suspended in mid-air by futuristic skyhooks or whatever. You’re now falling. On your way down, you’ll pass other floating structures and objects, including buildings and birds and spectators. Score points by looking at nearby structures (“kisses”), sticking close to buildings as you fall past them (“hugs”), running into birds, and flipping people off. Also, don’t break all your bones by landing on something without deploying your parachute.

Scoring points will net you a rating (in stars, from one to five), and getting a higher rating will  win you Teeth, the game’s currency. With Teeth, you can unlock techniques, videos, and more levels. It’s a good system, one that gets you hooked and gives you incentive to replay the levels until you’re perfect.

My sole major gripe related to the generally-fun gameplay is just how difficult it is to do everything the game wants you to be doing. You need to be close to structures as you go down, but if you smack into them you quickly bounce out of control. You need to look at nearby structures to score points, but looking any direction other than down makes you susceptible to crashing. It’s very hectic and you do eventually get the hang of it, but you might get a little frustrated first.

The game sports simple graphics tarted up with lots of glowing surfaces and brightly colored objects. It highlights, in a way, a dilemma unique to PC games – when programming a game for a console, you know the hardware that’s going to be available in every box your game is played on. PC developers have no such luxury. The best strategy is to create something like Valve’s Source engine, one that looks decent on high-end video cards but will also run acceptably on lowly junky integrated graphics chips. Most developers don’t have the deep pockets or the inexhaustible fanbase patience that Valve does, so they have to take it one of two ways: Go the direction that Crysis went, and make a game that will seriously tax top-shelf hardware for years, or go the way that AaaaaAAAaaaAaaaaaAAAAAaAAaAaa! goes and make something that just gets the job done and will run on anything at the expense of looking good. This is going to be the way it is until cloud computing and consoles strangle high-end PC gaming, an ongoing process that will happen as desktop PCs go by the wayside and game consoles take over more of the roles performed by typical PCs.

Sound is fine. As I mentioned above, the game’s principal voice actor is competent and fun to listen to – specifically, check out a genuinely relaxing meditation video that you can purchase with Teeth after you’ve played a few levels, and also the spiel asking players of the demo to please buy the full game. Music is bland but inoffensive punky pop/rock, and while I didn’t necessarily mind it, clearly it was aimed more squarely at 15-19-year-olds, preferably those who drink Monster and Mountain Dew.

If you want a straight summary, here you go: I enjoyed myself, but I didn’t need anymore of this game than I got from the demo, which is rough for Dejobaan. Hopefully they’ll find a ton of people with more disposable income and time who will buy and love this game, because it really does deserve some recognition.

Dejobaan Games’ AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! is currently available for $15 from Steam and from Dejobaan’s Web site. Played all available levels in demo.