The Amiga was a computer with some great games. James Pond, Speedball 2, Capsized? Alientrap’s latest is an action puzzle game with more physics quirks than you can shake Newton’s Balls at. It also looks and feels like a game from 90s, but is that a bad thing?
A spacecraft floats majestically through the vacuum of space, when suddenly disaster strikes. The crew of the ship hop into escape pods and launch themselves onto the surface of a mysterious and deadly planet. Armed with you trusty gun and grapple hook, you must traverse this hostile environment and it's unwelcoming locals to find your fellow space crew and somehow get home. The story has been told many times before, so what makes Capsized different? For one thing, our hero hasn’t got any Pikmin to help him out.
Capsized is an old fashioned feeling game that will resonate with any gamer who played on the PC/Atari/Amiga platforms back in the 90s. Aesthetically it looks like it is from this golden era, all rich flat colors and chunky character models – a child of the The Bitmap Brothers? Gameplay-wise it shows its PC roots. Use the left stick to move, the right stick to point your receptacle. The left trigger to fire your gravity hook, the right trigger your gun. Sound confusing? It is and it took me a fair while to get my head around the controls. Many a time I was jumping and firing in completely the wrong direction.
Some would say this was poor game design, but arguably the slightly tetchy controls are part of the game's appeal. To make up for the complexity in control, you have a forgiving and fun physics engine. You are able to jump much higher in this alien world and attach yourself to walls. Throughout the game you are also given a rocket pack that will see you hurtle around the screen, as long as the fuel does not run out. The controls will start to click as you use the floaty physics and in-depth controls to your advantage.
As Co-Optimus readers, many of you with subscribe to the ethos that co-op makes a game better, but that is not the case in Capsized. A hard to control physics based puzzle game goes from being complex and challenging, to manic and frustrating in 2 player local co-op. Things do not start off well when you try and uncover the co-op, where is it? Perhaps if I plug in a second controller? No. Maybe I unlock it by playing through the single player campaign? Not that either. You have to drill down into the settings and switch on the co-op!
This is the first time I have seen this on console and it does remind me of an indie PC game. Once you have switched on the co-op, 2 players appear in the full campaign. Great - to a degree. Two players will appear no matter if another player is actually present or plugged in. Co-op is either on or off, no drop in or drop out. Switching the co-operative aspects of the game on/off every time you want to move from solo to co-op (or back again) is a bizarre design choice and hints that perhaps the co-op was a later addition.
This is backed up when you start playing the game with a friend. Is the game really meant to be played in co-op? You both appear on a single screen that pans out as you move apart. After a while the screen will hit as wide as it is willing to go. One of two things happens – player one spawns to player two, or vice versa. There does not appear to be a logic as to who spawns when. With a game that has open levels and complex puzzles, it is too easy for one player to be handling a tricky physics conundrum, only for the other player to mistakenly fall down a pit and drag the other player with them.
There are positives from bringing a duo of spacemen into the fray. Shooting elements become easier with double fire power and levels that require you to do several tasks e.g. shoot 4 statues, are faster to complete, but this takes total communication. You must really work as one to move around together, the levels could have been open like Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, but the freedom is removed.
Other issues pop up. In co-op, the game appears to be less stable. I was able to walk through walls by accident and the game went black at one point for no reason. Also the two character models are very similar looking. This is a game of light and dark, when you are in a gloomy area you cannot tell who is who. In fact, as the players move apart the camera pans further away, it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish either player from the background. This led to some unfair deaths, as the two players share one pool of lives, moving apart can lead to Game Over too quickly.
There are gamers and there are genres. Not every gamer likes every genre. Pete may be a racing fan, whilst Paul may like strategy games; who am I to say either is wrong? I have to say that Capsized frustrated me, more than it entertained me. I do not have the patience to grapple and work my way through vast levels of enemies and puzzles, but many people do. In single player, Capsized is rare challenge that will have fans of old school games coming back for more, but many modern minded gamers will find it unfair and a little dull. Co-operatively, the game can be fun for a short while if two players are in complete sync. However, the glitches, dubious deaths, unclear characters and bizarre options menu means that the co-op feels like an afterthought and should be treated thus. Buy Capsized for the solo challenge if you like a hard puzzle game; just don’t get it for the co-op.
Editor's Note: This review is based on the XBLA version of Capsized.