I'm a sucker for the TRON-like digital afterlife concept. So I went into C?9-0 eagerly expecting a deep, affecting experience. And for the first five or ten minutes, it seemed like it just might deliver on that...
Sadly, it very quickly descends into a qurky, poorly designed pile of...bits. Instead of feeling like a solid, well-thought out game, it feels more like an overly ambitious Digipen student project. The biggest problem is, you're thrust into a bizarre, abstract world without any sort of guidance.
"DEAREST FRIEND, YOU WILL BE CONFUSED AT FIRST, BUT BE BRAVE, IN TIME YOU WILL UNDERSTAND.", the game assures in a large, ubiquitous, fatiguing-to-read typeface. Part of me wonders if this line was a lampshade put in at the 11th hour of development to assuage confused newcomers.
I've spent more time than I'd care asking myself "what the hell is going on?!". Given the concept, this MAY be a conscious choice by the developer, since you're no longer in a 'game' and you're figuring it out as you go along just like the main character, Maggie. But as a player here in meatspace, I still need some sort of graceful introduction to the concepts.
Like, what the hell is 'Foo'? Apparently it's money. It says 0/5 RAM on the status bar. What does that mean? Oh, now I'm suddenly sucked into a Zelda-like overhead persective and attacking chattering teeth? Whoa, now I'm in a platform section where I have unexpectedly acquired a jump key, slaying more chattering teeth. Aaaand now I'm back to the Indian trailer park, talking to Juggalos.
To be fair, there IS a clumsy, minimal in-game manual to ham-fistedly explain some of this stuff, if you deicde to "spoil the mystery". And the more you bang your head against the wall, things begin to slowly connect together.
Unfortunately once you begin to weave together a vague notion of what's going on, you begin to realize that the core gameplay is not nearly as complex or interesting as you'd hoped. As an outsider, this has been an incredibly frustrating, confusing experience. Abstract concepts are great, but they need a clean and well-thought out game design to prop it up, more than most.
It's clear from other reviews that some players got a lot more out of this game, and I'm sure if I magically "got it" from the outset like they apparently did, I'd probably like it more, too. But as it currently stands, I'm confused as hell, and -- the bigger tragedy -- I feel no overwhelming desire to invest more time into understanding it further. In some ways, that's a worse failure than my benchmark for bitter mediocrity, "Thirty Flights of Loving". At least I was compelled to finish THAT, such as it was. But also, like that game, reviewers attributed to it a great weight of intellectual complexity that, frankly, I had a hard time giving it credit for.
Save your rupees, gang, and simply enjoy the lovely developer-provided screenshots. Imagine a great game built around those images and know that the game you have imagined probably DOES exist somwhere, out there, in-between the bytes of your computer's RAM.
Posted: January 4th, 2014