Spectacle

PC, free

Spectacle is clearly designed to be a nostalgic experience. A first-person point-n-click adventure, set in a mishmash of One Thousand and One Nights tales, with magic spells, puzzles and even the need for squared paper map making. It’s also a good example of the form, and took me back to some extremely happy memories of sitting next to my dad as he played games exactly like this, marvelling at both his maps and his ability to solve their bizarro challenges.

Of the prizes I claimed from my dad’s study after he died, his pad of squared paper was one of the most precious. It’s yellowed with the decades, and tragically, only has one page he’s drawn a map on (I still hope to find some more of them in his files one day). So it was with a big smile that I realised Spectacle was going to be a lot easier to play if I grabbed it from my shelf. Here is the result, complete with an authentic contribution from our kitten, Sam, whose only purpose is to traipse mud onto every surface in our house.

I mean, spoilers, obviously. If you can read that teeny tiny writing.

In Spectacle, you begin your adventure visiting a circus, where after trying to sneak in the back you’re piled into a magic box and transported to a sandy world that has been ravaged by a baddy demon or somesuch. You are quickly embroiled in the goings-on of the place, not only trying to get home, but trying to fix all that’s wrong here too. So no, absolutely not an original story, but it feels really rather important that it not be. This is, at least on one level, a tribute to an era of gaming that goes far too forgotten, that moment a fraction of a second before adventures and RPGs completely split apart and found their own distinct directions. And on another level, I’d be absolutely convinced if someone told me this was some ancient code for an unpublished game from the era, given new life on its 2020 release.

That does come with some downsides, too. It very much emulates another feature of the era: completely unreasonable expectations on the player. I flat-out would not have finished this without a walkthrough, because some of the puzzles required making extremely abstract decisions, and other moments required noticing the teeniest of details in the crude pixel drawings in a game only rendered at 1024×896 at the highest. Of course, this was completely accurate to the era too, although since this isn’t a lost relic, I do wish it would have avoided being quite so spot-on.

One important way it differs, however, is that it doesn’t matter that it so very frequently kills you. There are dozens of completely unfair deaths here, just as there would have been in the 1980s, however this time the penalty is only to be reset back one screen. As a result, the “unfairness” of the deaths becomes quite a fun feature, and I’d deliberately trigger more obvious failures just to see what would happen, knowing it wouldn’t penalise me at all.

There are a couple of spelling mistakes here and there, and the game’s decision to have its compass offset by 90 degrees could be described as… evil, but this is a very solid adventure, that’s been updated and well cared for since its original release last year. Developers GrahfMetal are currently working on their third game in the style (following 2016’s Infestated), THEMEIRE, and I’m now very much looking forward to that.

I cannot fathom why this is free. They are daft. This merits payment. They don’t even have a way to use Itch’s option to pay them anyway! Spectacle has a fair few hours to it, of course directly influenced by your ability with the genre’s puzzles and your willingness to plunge into a walkthrough. And if this holds any nostalgia for you, it will deliver in spades. It’s been delightful for me, and has made me feel a little closer to my late dad, and that’s pretty special.

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1 Comment

  1. There’s a game called “From Beyond” with exactly the same graphic style and interface. Different developer, though.

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