High Strangeness Impressions

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High Strangeness
Developer
: Barnyard Intelligence
Publisher: Midnight City
Platform: PC, Wii U

High Strangeness was the first game ever Kickstarted. The game was backed by 36 people in 2009. The number may be small, but this was long before the platform became the go to funding source for indie developers and Star Citizen made its record shattering campaign. High Strangeness mixes classic 8-bit and 16-bit adventure RPGs in what developers Barnyard Intelligence dubs as 12-bit gaming. The game is currently slated to launch on May 6th.

Barnyard Intelligence draws heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda games on NES and SNES along with a few other action and RPG titles. The entire game world has been made twice, once in 8-bit style and once in 16-bit. The hero Boyd is capable of switching back and forth between the two words at will. The switch is not purely a cosmetic matter, as each world’s gameplay is true to its era. Features like sprint and combo attacks that are present in the 16-bit world are missing in the 8-bit world, while the 8-bit world feels much chunkier, with a greater focus on up, down, left, and rightward movement.

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Balancing two separate worlds, especially with one have more features that most gamers are used to, is no easy task. Except for the retro die hard who lives, eats, and breathes the NES, it is probably going to be hard to convince people to spend extensive time in the 8-bit world. Barnyard Intelligence gets around the challenge by adding puzzles and mechanics like traps that are only visible in 8-bit mode. While I feel that the game doesn’t really merge the two worlds into one fluid package as “12-bit” would suggest, Barnyard Intelligence is definitely onto something very cool. The puzzles are imaginative and the developers even manage to integrate the switch between the two worlds into the enemy mechanics.

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If puzzles are High Strangeness’ yin, then combat is the game’s yang. The combat will be instantly familiar to The Legend of Zelda fans, with plenty of monsters and bosses to slay. Boyd has his trusty flashlight for clubbing enemies and a variety of gadgets and skulls to assist him in combat. Mana serves as the energy that fuels all of Boyd’s attacks, including the flashlight, and regenerates slowly over time. This encourages a more thoughtful approach to combat, requiring a good bit of dodging. All weapons can be upgraded with currency dropped by enemies to be more effective or for new abilities, while Boyd’s clothing can be upgraded to provide improved stats.

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Getting the graphics right is a must for a game like High Strangeness. The game stays true to the two eras that have inspired the game, screaming 8-bit and 16-bit all the way. It is great to see two very different takes on the characters, the world, world and the levels. No detail is missed, even the UI and character portraits change.  Interspersed in the game are beautiful watercolour images that serve as the backdrop for the cut scenes. They add a very modern flair to the game, yet are reminiscent to the art on retro game boxes, which served as an imaginative and artistic take on the pixelated goodness contained within.

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The audio side of High Strangeness is looking good. The game is backed with a solid chiptune soundtrack and a plethora of fitting sound effects. I’m a tad torn. On one hand, I would have liked to have heard two separate audio styles for the two worlds. On the other hand, the amount of switching that’s done in game would make pulling it off an Olympics level challenge to do right.

High Strangeness is on the right track to be an indie darling. It may have been six years since the Kickstarter campaign closed, but the game so far is well crafted. The future is looking bright for Barnyard Intelligence and High Strangeness.

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