Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Last Stitch Goodnight

Back in 2011 when I was busy covering indies on the Xbox 360 I had the pleasure of playing through one of the most memorable games of the XBLIG library. That game being Well Bred Rhino's "All the Bad Parts". It featured a unique style of animation that included 2D character creations done up in a jointed puppet style, and placed within interactive 3D backgrounds. That game like the "Last Stitch Goodnight" embodied narrative driven room by room exploration accomplished through interesting textual conversations, accompanying Charlie Brown inspired voice-overs, and a combat system that acted as a means to fight off the otherworldly threats at hand. The developer's dive into the unknown, and unusual kept me playing through that first game nonstop until I reached the climactic end finally finishing the story. It was the same for this latest game as well, but to a slightly different degree. As far as said recent game playthrough goes I was not disappointed in the slightest with the direction Well Bred Rhino's modern horror inspired Metroidvania took as it once again brilliantly tackled the enigma of life and death through the imagination of one of the most creative developers ever to grace the indie scene. It was a rare journey through a strange world with a complex, and well thought narrative. One that harbors an air of creepiness, 4th wall breaking, and genuine concern for the direction modern science is taking. That, and a nod to gender politics ...

This latest adventure known as the "Last Stitch Goodnight" is a game experience which is boldly being marketed by the developer as a Metroidvania with a modern horror twist. In a way it's kind of like "All the Bad Parts" though it features 2D characters placed in lane based 3D environments in which said character must explore rooms in order to uncover the truth behind their situation so that they can get the hell out of Dodge. This exploration includes a new dual wheel menu system that gives the player access to tools that double as weapons (visa versa) as well as expendable items that can open up the world, and heal the protagonist should they need it. Without spoiling the plot too much you'll find that the protagonist who has a gender that can be selected, and gender preference (random option included) when it comes to their attraction to others starts off with a near death episode in a local hospital. A sort of out of body experience happens, and it is through this event that the protagonist's soul re-enters their body only for them to immediately be wrongfully pronounced dead, and imprisoned by the doctor on call for initially unknown experimental reasons. The story that follows is a blend of science fiction, and spiritual horror that brings into light mankind's drive to play god, and create life itself. A kind of Frankensteinian re-imagining the likes of which definitely has it's modern, and classical roots.

As a nameless, but but outwardly appointed protagonist of select gender who likes a specific or random gender you will traverse the prison-like mansion in which you are being held against your will. You'll start off by obtaining your first weapon, and tool in your cell via the unexpected help of another acquaintance. After that you'll be introduced to combat, and control mechanics through a hands-on means. This includes brief tutorials disclosing how to interact, move, run, dodge, climb, and bring up the tool and item wheels. Once you are shown what to do you will be tasked with escaping the madness you currently find yourself a part of. Traveling room by room, and floor by floor you'll face off against human, and not quite human adversaries that each try to attack you in a specific way. Learning their patterns, and defeating them will not only rid you of their opposition (sometimes on a limited basis due to respawning), but will also sometimes leave behind a health item, coins or character files. The latter of which can be accessed, and read via the "OPTIONS" menu for lore expanding purposes. As you make your way through the mansion's many sections you'll eventually find boss fights, plot forwarding cutscenes, and save rooms of the janitorial sort (Resident Evil Style) for saving progress. By defeating bosses, and progressing the plot through character conversation the story will become more clear, and the reason why you should be fleeing for your life all the more evident.

Aside from the Metroidvania backtracking, and progressive advancement for plot sake you'll also be searching for other weapons/tools that will open up new areas, and help you to defeat new types of enemies. Tools such as a screwdriver, a bone saw, and even a candle among other things. By pressing "TRIANGLE" on highlighted "?" symbols you'll be able to use the tools gathered to do such things as saw through objects, light objects on fire, and even fix objects so that they will work. This of course is all done while you are your physical self. Outside the realm of the physical though, when you are your soul, you'll be able to spark certain electronics into action, and move through tight previously inaccessible areas. At first this out of body mechanic will be separate leaving your physical body behind, but later on into the game you'll be able to transform from a soul to your physical self, and back again. Along the way you'll also be able to break highlighted environmental objects with your weapons for items, and currency. The coin and paper currency you collect can be spent at vending machines (literally typing in the coordinate numbers like a proper vending machine) for single use power-ups, and mansion maps among other things. Supposing you choose to buy maps you can access them via the controller's touch pad. This feature alone will help you better navigate the mansion interior if you find yourself getting lost. As you make it even further into the mansion, and the story a shop that takes sol currency for more rewarding perk-like items will open up. Along with that new feature there are area specific conduit warp points which look like mapped out neurons in their menu form. These conduit warps will make travel across the mansion easier, and more instantaneous.

When it comes to the boss fights in the game you'll often times have to find hidden "?" highlights that open up tool to environment interactions which in turn will allow you to defeat said boss. It's a similar puzzle-like feature utilized throughout the game's exploration phases. Sometimes you'll also have to use the soul transformation to help in the process of battling the boss. Bosses, like yourself and the lesser enemies each have health bars that must be fully depleted in order to be defeated. They also have specific attack patterns which must be minded as you apply the weapon attacks required to dispatch them to the afterlife.

For plot thickening purposes the developer has also included a sort of file menu that houses informational tidbits on experiments/specimens (enemies) as well as tutorials, features, and terminology associated with the game's lore. These extras open up the plot beyond the comic book style character conversations, and add depth to it. Not only that, but there's also some replay value to be had with the file collecting as well as the optional difficulty settings. Let me not forget the obtainable PSN trophies as well.

The Presentation ...

This game definitely has a unique quality about it on a visual, and audio scale. The character design for one thing is something you'll only get to see in a 'Well Bred Rhino' creation. As I mentioned earlier the character animations are more primitive, and akin to a jointed paper puppet style. To some extent the characters look as if they were inspired by the Sunday newspaper cartoons, and brought to life inside a video game environment. Only in a way that Ben Cook (the developer) could have dreamt up though. The locations in which your character will travel are in themselves unique as well in the sense that the developer incorporates a mismatched puzzle of offices, morgues, prisons, garages, insane asylums, and even laboratories among other things. Nothing is really repetitive in design, and you'll definitely know where you are at when referencing the maps. As far as the soundtrack goes it is both thematic, and atmospheric. There are silent hospital-like moments, and even foreboding darker moments when the creepy side of the game creeps in. Sound effects such as the environmental kind, and the voice-overs I call the Charlie Brown parents type add to the unique vision relayed by the developer to the gamer.

The Verdict ...

When it comes to games boasting to have embraced the Metroidvania platforming genre, or even the horror genre this one really did that, and then some. You'll find hints of 'Castlvania', 'Metroid', and various other Metroidvanias mixed in. It's a virtual cornucopia of content that not only takes in account Metroidvanias, but also games like 'Resident Evil', and 'Silent Hill' in the horror sense. It's a decent 2.5D blend of well crafted storytelling, unique mechanics, and interesting character interactions. I personally enjoyed the playthrough in it's entirety despite it having slight frame rate issues, and somewhat stiff character movement. The flaws in the gameplay were noticeable, but not hindering enough to warrant a ranted complaint. The fact that the developer, in the PR statement, asked us to relay to him any issues so that he could fix them shows he cares about his offered experience, and that he's willing to commit to making it as fun as possible for those of you willing to buy into it. As far as a rating goes this game gets the Inferno's seal of approval. It is a budget priced indie that most anyone can enjoy. I personally enjoyed it myself, and think you will too if you only give it a chance.

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