Friday, July 16, 2010

A Sweet Eversion

eversion I love it when indie games make it. 

And by “make it” I mean receive just enough support to get onto the Steam homepage and get a fair shake in the marketplace. 

By “make it” I also mean go from a free downloadable release to an affordable hi-def release.

I might also consider a mention on Ryan North’s Twitter “making it.”  (Not that Ryan North’s the sole keeper of all things awesome – though he’s dang close).

By all of these definitions, Eversion has made it. 

What is Eversion?  An indie title with “retro-style platform gameplay.”  What does that mean?  You control Zee Tee, a flower-looking dude who can run and jump.  Enemies and environmental puzzles will block Zee Tee’s progression, and you must navigate them.  Save the unique visual assets, it plays not unlike every other platformer ever.

And that’s fine because it’s not the mechanics that set Eversion apart.  It’s the dissonance between its cutesy surface and the murky, Lovecraftian abyss lurking underneath.  You see, Guilherme Stutz Töws of Zaratustra Productions entered Eversion in TIGSource’s 2008 Commonplace Book Competition.  H.P. Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book contained various story nuggets scribbled down in hopes of inspiring future tales of the macabre supernatural.

TIGSource, never one to give its community of developers an easy prompt, asked people to make games inspired by ideas from Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book.  Töws chose the following:

“Sounds - possibly musical - heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.”

When Zee Tee crosses over specific areas, a tone will sound.  This marks an opportunity for him to “evert.”  “To evert” means to turn inside out, and that’s not unlike what happens when you press the evert button.  If Zee Tee’s standing in an eversion zone, the button will shift the world around him: colors change, the music morphs, enemies change shape.

Is there a bush in your way?  Find an eversion spot and turn it into a passable bush.  Need to collect a gem on top of a cloud?  Evert and transform the cloud into a frozen platform.  Each new shift is another degree removed from the Candyland color scheme of the first world. 

Save the occasional exception, everything in one dimension has an analogue in the next.  The economic art style allows for quick palette-switching while keeping the worlds congruent.  Enemies will not magically spawn in new spots, but their behaviors and appearances may change drastically. 

At times, progress will only be possible with a successful series of eversions.  You must also dance back and forth between the dimensions if you want to collect every gem.  However, the – for lack of a better word – worm holes between each dimension prevent you from abusing the ability and completely reshaping the world at will. 

Eversion’s a puzzle at heart – a puzzle that occasionally requires extremely fine command over the controls.  More open-ended levels alternate with worlds being devoured by darkness.  There’s no time to dilly-dally and hunt for gems there.  Out run the void or be taunted by increasingly demented game over screens that reach through the fourth wall (the monitor, in this case) and grab you by the throat.

For a game whose protagonist is so sweet-looking, Eversion’s surprisingly determined to put the player on edge.  Further down the dimensional rabbit hole, giant demon claws swiftly emerge from pits, enemies (and Zee Tee) explode in fonts of blood, and the very conventions of the game’s presentation collapse.  It’s incredibly unsettling.  It may seem odd for a game to list “Extra entertainment value when played alone at night” as one of its features, but Töws isn’t lying. 

Any fan of the indie scene will find much in Eversion worth comparing to the likes of Braid and other arty platformers.  Like Braid, Eversion subverts the classic Hero/Princess relationship, tying it into its Cthulu-like dream mythos.  Why the Hero/Princess dynamic?  Mario, plain and simple.  Do I wish Eversion had a slightly more original MacGuffin, especially given its proximity to the release of Braid?  Of course.  But I acknowledge that shortcuts like “Save the Princess” help lone developers working under a competition’s time constraints.

Also, the payoff for the first “bad” ending I received made all the barely-veiled homage worth it.

Eversion won’t take you long to beat (I spent just over an hour with it), and you may never play it more than once.  But if that doesn’t bother you, pick up Eversion.  It’s that rare platformer that can actually make the player jump.

The old, non HD version of Eversion can be found here for free.  The high-definition version can be found via Valve’s Steam service for $4.99.