Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ginger: Beyond the Crystal (PS4)

Badland Games, and Drakhar Studios has developed one of the most charming, and visually pleasing puzzle platformers I've seen yet on the PS4. While it's not perfect the fairytale plight contained within, and the lone hero of circumstance which the game is centered around come to life in such a way that it makes you reminisce about games like "Super Mario 64", and "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Majora's Mask". It features gameplay elements similar to those types of games, and blends them well enough in it's own arrangement to attract fans of said former titles without infringing on the rights of other developers. There's plenty of storytelling told through textual dialogue, and the garbled speech of bug-like creatures who are simply looking to recover, and rebuild from a catastrophe regarding their sacred crystal. Along with the guided platforming there's definitely a lot to do as you embark on your world changing adventure as the game's hero, Ginger.

As Ginger the protagonist, and goddess appointed savior, you'll ultimately be tasked with purifying corrupted crystals while helping various towns rebuild, and repopulate. This is done through combat, platform puzzle solving, and material gathering ...

All in all the segmented adventure of Ginger, and his fellow villagers is comprised of three base goals. This includes village rebuilding and repopulation, red crystal purification, and puzzle platforming done through 3D portal worlds where you'll discover things essential for furthering your progress ....

When the game begins the gamer is blessed with a nicely narrated telling of a mystical tribe of beings that worship a goddess who lives within a sacred stone. The goddess who resides in said stone uses a nearby crystal, and neighboring crystals to protect the the world within, and around the tribe. Through a mysterious stranger's visit though this peace, and prosperity is almost put to an end. Had the goddess not gifted the villagers Ginger earlier on as an infant, and informed them that he'd one day be their saving grace all hope would have been lost. In light of the events surrounding the corruption of the crystal Ginger sets out to do his destined duty, but not before being taught some much needed lessons by the village elders.

It is through the three guardian elders that you'll first learn of Ginger's base abilities. Going to each elder will in turn trigger a hands-on tutorial where you'll learn the ropes of the game. Ginger, like Mario and Link from their own respective 3D adventures has slightly similar platforming, and combat skills. In the way of movement Ginger can run around in all directions using the 'Left thumbstick', and can jump or double jump using the 'X' button with the appropriate amount of presses. To rotate the camera perspective you simply move the 'Right Thumbstick' left or right. In the way of combat skills Ginger has a suit that grants him the power to punch using 'CIRCLE', dash punch using 'SQUARE', and aerial attack by pressing 'X' followed by 'SQUARE' while still airborne. The latter attack is more or less Mario's butt pound, and can be used to not only pound enemies into pixie dust, but also to activate switches among other things. As you progress, and enter other villages, and portal worlds you'll learn new mechanics tied to level interactions, and the different suits Ginger will get from rescued creatures. Suits which will in effect open up access to new areas of portal worlds, and village environments for the discovery of secrets, and materials.

When it comes to the villages things are governed by the crystal at the center of it. Using tiny blue crystals that you collect along the way you'll replenish the core crystal's power in order to bring back lost inhabitants, and open up more portal worlds within the same village. The goal is to bring back everyone that's gone missing, and rebuild the destroyed buildings that make up the village so that they can live happily in them. You'll be tending to those objectives as well as going into the red crystals and their floating platform mini-game areas where you'll ultimately purify the red crystal contained at the end of a series of floating, rotating, and falling blocks. As far as rebuilding the homes for the villagers goes you'll need materials, and those materials can be found in a variety of different places. Both in the portal worlds, and in environmental objects within the villages themselves.

Navigating the villages, and plotting your traveling from point to point can be done using a map handed over upon introduction of the village leader. You'll find points of interest, and persons of interest marked respectively on the pop-up style map which can be brought up using the 'L2' button. In the portal worlds you'll basically be going on a linear or sometimes branching path that opens up more as you toggle switches, and interact with environmentally highlighted areas using Ginger, and his suits. In some cases a replay of the portal world is needed to unlock more of the game, and allow for deeper progress. Of course as you make your way from the start to the final red crystal in each portal world you'll find tiny blue crystals, and materials which will be of use once you return to the village. Back in the village you'll also find that there are NPC (Non-Player Character) side quests that can be completed to earn more materials for your efforts. These dutiful tasks include things like enemy clearing, item collecting, and even races where you follow a trail of blue flames on a timed course.

The suits that I've mentioned before change Ginger's abilities, and appearance on the go with a pressing of the "L1/R1" buttons once obtained. As I said previously rescuing captured prisoners within a portal world will gift Ginger a new suit. These suits include things like a bard outfit, and a mouse outfit among others. Each are role specific in opening up blocked off or inaccessible areas within the villages or the portal worlds. The bard outfit, for example has Ginger playing a guitar-like instrument using the four controller face buttons (SQUARE, TRIANGLE, X, CIRCLE) as notes. The music will play when you get to a prompted or highlighted area, and interact using 'TRIANGLE". Speaking of which all character, and environment interactions are done with 'TRIANGLE'. Along with the playing music the required button notes will appear on pop-up sheet music, and must be manually repeated by you in the correct order in order to trigger the environmental interaction. Needless to say each suit has it's place, and purpose within the game. Changing back to the standard Ginger suit can be done by doubling up on the 'L1/R1' button press, and must be done in order for Ginger to be able to purify the red crystals.

It should also be noted that pressing the "OPTIONS" button will gain you access to several menu panels which display all items obtained as well as village progress, and collectible gathering. You can view those playthrough details as well as end your game, or reload your game if need be. While it is more for aesthetic purposes the game also has a shop character from which you can buy applicable facial items for Ginger. These are the collectibles of which I spoke, and will cost you several blue crystals to obtain per each item. They can be worn as accessories, but have no real use outside of their fashion statement.

As far as the visuals go the graphics in "Ginger: Beyond the Crystal" are quite pleasing to the eyes. Things are very polished for an indie of this nature, and sport a breathtakingly beautiful watercolor scheme. Dare I say it, it at times reminds me of "Psychonauts" only less edgy in design. As far as the soundtrack goes it contains tons of Legend of Zelda style voice-over mumbling, and music fitting of a more fantasy driven tale. The tunes are definitely more lighthearted, and less than ominous. I guess you could say it has a sort of whimsical sound about it. The only downside to it all is the frequently invasive three minute long loading screens that segment the game in-between each area transition. A staple feature that has seemingly become the standard for published Badland Games, games. That, and the occasional frame rate issues keep this game from being the fluid, and solid gaming experience that it could have been.

Now the Verdict ...

This game, as bad as I want to hate on it for it's shortcomings, has a lot of delightful features that keep it from failing completely. The platforming, for the most part is well done, and enjoyable. Sure, the camera could have been implemented in a better way than it was, and there's no doubt that the combat mechanics could have been more fine tuned, but it works out well enough for you to enjoy the game's better offerings. That being said it does have some more major issues as well. One NPC side quest in particular was rendered useless as completing it was made impossible. The NPC side quest of which I speak is the timed race. In it you had to follow the usual trail of  blue flames without deviating from the given path. As you approach, and pass each flame they are supposed to change color allowing you to successfully pass through to the next one until your reached the race's final flame. The problem with that was that early on the flames would not change when approached leaving you unable to advance further without being penalized. Thankfully these side quests don't seem to be mandatory, and are more for obtaining extra materials than anything. 

As the flawed, but fun package deal that it is I think "Ginger: Beyond the Crystal" is alright. It's not perfect, and I'm not sure if it will ever be patched to perfection, but it's a game that will entertain you for at least a short while should you be willing to throw your money at it. I personally wouldn't have bought it, but that is based mostly on the fact that I've focused my more personal gaming time on casual experiences, and replay value which this game does not offer much of. It may be different for you though. Before I wrap things up I should probably also mention the game has two difficulty settings. Basically 'normal', and 'hard (oldschool hard)'. So there is some challenge to be had if you want to brave it for trophy sake! That's something else to consider when thinking about buying this indie release.

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