A strange attraction.
High Strangeness has had a long time in development. Lead Developer Ben Shostak of Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs' Steve Jenkins met on the Destructoid boards back in 2009, where Jenkins was releasing a weekly chiptune mixtape, and Shostak was developing a Contra-inspired Deathmatch game, Agent Moo: Maximum Overdeath. Together they ran a Kickstarter campaign—Shostak mentioned in our interview below that the site was so new it was invite-only for creators—for a new collaboration, High Strangeness.
With an ask of $1,500, the campaign succeeded with just an extra $59, which seems almost impossibly low following the crowdfunding boom that came in the wake of Double Fine Adventure 's success (Broken Age), three years later. So it's no surprise that High Strangeness has taken half a decade of development since the successful campaign. With its novel concept of world-bending gameplay, it may be worth the wait.
Built as an action RPG around games like Star Tropics and the original Legend of Zelda, you play as Boyd, a young man who wakes up on moving day and discovers his world invaded by shadowy hooded figures, and his cat suddenly gifted with the ability of speech. With his trusty flashlight and an endless supply of CDs and fireworks for alt attacks, Boyd sets out to learn what's going on while retrieving crystal skulls that give him unique powers, including the power to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit gameplay worlds.
Gameplay as Boyd shifts between the worlds, with the combat and movement in 16-bit being faster and more aggressive. Enemies will track you, fire projectiles directly at you, and attack with animated swipes. In 8-bit, your movement is limited to up, down, left, and right, your attacks are slower, but enemies are slower and less aggressive. Often a path that isn't clear, or is blocked, in one version of the world becomes easy to see or is unobstructed in the other, making shifting between the two necessary.
Additionally this is used for more complex puzzles. In the Easter Island section, for instance, friendly Moai statue heads will give you information like computer passwords in the 8-bit world, but not the 16-bit world. However, the puzzles aren't limited to just the world-bending skull mechanic. Some of the game's best puzzles involve flipping switches by repositioning reflectors that you throw your CD projectiles at, causing them to bounce from one to another, or to retarget enemy projectiles into a switch.
This really hits the developer's target of a 12-bit adventure, with both 8- and 16-bit styles represented. Additionally the game's sense for nostalgia is heightened by a soundtrack by Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace) and Dino Lionetti (Cheap Dinosaurs). The game also features watercolors in cinematics used to provide an idea of visions of heightened clarity, provided by Bay Area artist Sam Bennett.
Barnyard Intelligence and Crystal Labs' High Strangeness will release on May 6, 2015 on Wii U and Steam. No price point has yet been announced, but if you're looking for a retro-gaming fix with a focus on classic action-adventures, this could be a great fit!