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Continue?9876543210 Review: Always Look On The Bright Side Of Death

Platform: Windows
Developer: Jason Oda
Publisher: Jason Oda
Release Date: 1/3/13

 

While there are hundreds of video games featuring death, (whether it be through foes slain by the player or through the player’s own failures) death as a concept isn’t something that games often explore beyond a set of penalties or binary state. Few games explore and touch on the relationship between death and meaning or the struggle to accept such the inevitability of one’s own mortality and the ambition to depict and explore such complex notions that sets Jason Oda’s Continue?9876543210 (Lets just refer to it as Continue? from here on out) aside from many of the more ‘artsy’ and philosophical indie games (Gone Home, Journey and Dear Esther) that have garnered both praise and attention from game critics in recent years.

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You are a failed protagonist of an unknown video game who desperately searches through the recesses of Random Access Memory for the meaning of life in the moments before he is finally deleted forever by an all consuming program known as ‘The Garbage Collector’. While the premise is a bit of a mouthful, the gameplay of Continue? is relatively straightforward. Continue? isn’t an especially long game (playthrough lengths for me fell between 30 and 90 minutes) and the game is structured into a set of randomly generated levels and in each of these levels the player must both explore and interact with the level’s inhabitants to acquire both Lightning and Prayers. Lightning serves to clear the rubble blocking the exits of each level while Prayers build shelters that allow the protagonist to hide from being deleted by the Garbage Collector in later levels. These levels are broken up into rounds and each round is separated by a dream-sequence in which the player remembers part of his past life in the form of  mini-games sequences that act as easily-identified tributes to classic games from Space Invaders to Zelda. Furthermore, as the rounds progress more and more enemies will fill up the level and the player has to fight them as they make their way to the exit. While the game’s narrative will always end in the protagonists deletion each play-through offers the player the chance to help the protagonist find meaning and face their death with different emotions from fear and resignation to acceptance and enlightenment.

Mechanically, there isn’t all that much happening in Continue? that gamers haven’t seen before. Thankfully, Jason Oda hasn’t crafted a game that intends to engage its audience through mechanics but rather one that engages and speaks to it’s audience through metaphors. According to him “Everything in Continue? has a deeper meaning behind it. All of the strange places you go to, people you talk to and scenarios you go through are part of a greater idea that I hope you spend a second or two trying to figure out and interpret”. The poetic writing that fills the game and brings with it the kind of greater ideas that Oda talks about is quite commendable and the way that the themes that each stage explores manifest as part of the protagonists final prayer before deletion when you lose the game is an extremely effective way of conveying achievement in a game where the only result is death.

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Similarly to its mechanics, Continue?’s visual and sound design is both a shameless tribute to older games and a highly effective tool in creating the game’s unique and sorrowful tone. The games blocky characters and environments evoke the past in very similar ways as 2011’s Sword and Sworcery did and there’s a certain level of charm in the fact that no matter how basic the characters and environments of the different worlds that the protagonists in Continue? explore, they still remain immediately recognizable archetypes and understandable characters. The soundtrack of the game perfectly brings to life the digitized world and helps bring a sense of hope and wonder to the game.

Continue? is a highly ambitious game when it comes to the existential ideas it explores however I do wish it was just a little bit more ambitious in regards to the game mechanics it is build upon. It seems almost petty to chide such an ambitious artsy game on such basic things but I do think it’s worth bringing attention to Continues?’s flaws just as much as its successes. Controls are often clumsy and lightning often seemed to bug out and strike the same place twice (wasting your chance to clear a path to the exit).

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While I applaud the heavy and deep ideas that Continue? tackles I can’t help but wish that the game was more fun in the way it let you experience them. The shortcomings of and the lack of synergy between gameplay and meaning is what separates games like Papers, Please from Dear Esther and it’s a shame to see Continue? falter in this aspect. Continue? is a very artsy sort of game and for that very reason it’s a hard game to recommend to those not interested in those sorts of games. However for those that are are interested in games that go as far beyond the boundaries of dragon-slayers and space marines as possible – Continue?09876543210 is a treat well worth investigating for the low price tag it bears.

Continue?9876543210 is available on Steam for $10USD.



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