I’m a sucker for an ASCII game. There’s something just so charming about the concept, whether it’s Nethack (which I’m admittedly far too scared to play), Door In The Woods, or the masterful Stone Story, it matters not the genre, just the creativity. Add to this list the magnificently named ASCIIDENT.
I was completely sold the first time I hit an enemy and the word “B L O O D” spilled from them, and bounced on the ground.
Launched today in Eartly Access, this is a combination of Metroidvania and Minecraft, a 2D action platformer, with mining, crafting, fighting and solving. Entirely crafted out of ASCII characters, and an enormous amount of fun to play.
You begin in a crashed ship at the top of a structure, greeted by a peculiar man who’ll help you out with information and crafting items if you’ll pay him. Oh, and he points out to you that you’re a clone. He can smell it on you.
You certainly are, and your crashed ship offers the ability to reclone you a further 100 times. Which is an awful lot of lives, but worth noting that in my couple of hours with this earliest build, I’ve lost 21 of them. I’m incredibly careless, of course. And if I started the game over, and did everything I’ve done again, it’d take me far less time and a lot fewer lives. There’s a learning curve here, which is a huge part of its appeal.
Various characters will offer you services, or ask for your help with tasks, or in the case of a mad-eyed cow, give you mushrooms in return for leaves. You know, like cows do. As you explore, you gather the elements you need to craft items, which allow you to gather more, and craft more. Yes, it’s a loop we’re all familiar with, but that’s because it’s such an engaging one! And it’s really fascinating to see it combined with a Metroidy state of mind, letting your newly crafted tools give you access to previously too-dangerous areas.
It’s just so subtle about how smart this is, and perhaps it’s my ignorance not to be able to recall another game that’s thought to have you need to craft your way to the new unlocks that expand the map. It means that you get those “YES!” moments when you realise the new weapon can take out that utterly lethal enemy in just two hits. Suddenly the world feels safer, bigger, and then of course immediately more dangerous.
The only real issue right now is the clumsy inventory. In fact, all the menus are completely all over the place, with a seemingly random selection of keys required to operate everything (Q to open inventory, arrows to navigate, enter to select, F6 to move to a container, F8 to throw…) Juggling limited inventory space, along with even more limited container space, is a big part of the process, so it’d be nice to see this vastly improved. Also, it desperately wants for controller support – right now it’s all played on the keyboard, which is apposite enough I suppose, but I’d far prefer to play it on my Xbox pad.
There game intends to expand ever larger, beginning with its Asteroid FA-17 location that’s already a solid three hours long, eventually containing up to six. Then six further locations are in development. What’s already there demonstrates some really smart design choices, and I can’t wait to explore it further.
It looks great. I love the subtle lighting, the animation on the characters, and the way I so quickly stopped comprehending this is a game made of punctuation, thinking of semi-colons as vines before annoying sentence elements no one ever needs to use. Also there is some top-notch music, and the writing’s fun too.
Oh my goodness, and I nearly forgot! Just thrown in there as a little gimmick is one of the cleverest puzzle ideas I’ve seen in forever! It’s essentially a Minesweeper board, except you move around it as a cursor – you have to collect all the $ signs, without walking over any of the mines, discerning where it’s safe to walk by Minesweeper logic. Oh my gosh it should be its own game!
I’d say this is one to strongly considering for an Early Access peek, with new locations intended to be added every month. Now I’m sure spanners will enter that ambitious schedule, but it’s all relatively near-term, which is good to see.