Monday, October 26, 2009

A reckless disregard for gravity.

Among the many delightful independent games available on Steam, Valve's online game distribution service, comes one that is undoubtedly the most imaginatively named titles in recent memory. It's called AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, and , at less than eight hundred rupees, it's one of the best value for money games you can buy this year.

Developed and published by Dejobaan Games (an impossibly serious voice announces “bringing you quality videogames for over seventy-five years” during the game's intro video), Aaaaa! is everything videogames should be – amusing, original, innovative and heaps of fun. To get an idea of the sense of irreverent humour that Dejobaan has brought to this title, just visit their web site and see for yourself.

Basically, this is a game about jumping off extremely tall buildings, hurtling towards your tiny landing pad target, opening your chute in time, and land without any broken bones. It's played in first-person, so you'll basically be looking down as you free-fall through the skyscrapers that make up the game's levels, trying to hit targets, collect points, annoy spectators by showing them the finger (really) and open your parachute as late as possible for maximum points. Falling close to building surfaces, and even brushing them, get you additional score bonuses. But get it wrong, and you'll painfully bounce from wall to ledge to overhang, and break a lot of bones on your way down.

It's a game played almost completely at breakneck speed. You begin each level standing on the rooftop of a building, walking around and looking down for the best possible route to the landing. But at some point, you have to jump off. And then, the game becomes magical – you will hurtle towards the ground at blinding speed, accelerating all the time. The walls of buildings, beams, ledges, neon signs, roofs and spectators whiz by in a blur – you'll have to make split second decisions and choose your path – or wind up as street pizza. It's a bona-fide adrenaline rush.

Adding to the game's already high WTF quotient are special items – an espresso shot that will slow down your surroundings, a glove that will help you flip off spectators, a spray can that helps you paint grafiiti on the walls as you zoom past them. It's all quite completely insane, and a blast to play.

The visuals are a neon-futuristic-techno-cyberpunk genre of classics like WipeOut XL, Rez, Geometry Wars and the old arcade classics. It's all high contrast, brightly glowing, pulsating, strobing madness, and it moves by in a whirling, twirling dance of dazzling brilliance.

A game such as this lives or dies by its level design. There are too many examples of a great concept being completely deflated by poor level design, but this isn't one such instance. You'll replay each level multiple times trying to rack up the highest possible score (or, in the game's terminology, get mazimum 'teeth'. Don't ask.) and you'll never be bored.

Most importantly, Aaaaa! is unapologetic about being what it is – a game. There's no attempt at story, or narrative, or anything more than the most wafer-thin of contexts to the gameplay. It's our art form at its purest – a harkback to the glory days of Tetris, Pac-Man and Breakout where gameplay alone decided the success of a game in the eyes of critics and fans.

Aaaaa! is an unqualified triumph of unfettered, imaginative game development. If you care about games at all, you should support developers like Dejobaan by buying it. More power.

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