Players probably fill up with sorrow and anger when they hear “playable teaser” but that’s exactly what The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is. Instead of being a meaty demo for a doomed horror game, it’s an extended free sampling of the upcoming Life is Strange 2, of which some of Captain Spirit‘s choices will carry over to. While details are slim about that second season, Captain Spirit faithfully captures most of the essence of the first game in its two-hour runtime for better and for worse.
Captain Spirit follows Chris, a ten-year-old boy who depends on his imagination to pass the time on a seemingly regular Saturday. Chris lives with his dad, a has-been alcoholic who yearns for the days when his life wasn’t a depressive sinkhole. The game forfeits a traditional narrative arc in favor of interacting with your dad and the snow-covered house and yard.
Like Life is Strange, the small environment is dense with objects Chris can analyze and comment on. At best, the items yield some sort of small nugget of information about Chris’ family dynamic or a detail about their past. But not every object has useful information. Chris will often give his interesting, naive interpretation of his family’s drama, but he’ll also repeat the same themes or say something boring like an actual ten-year-old boy. Fewer interactable items would cut down on the repetition and straighten out the pacing.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review: Wonderful Wonder
Chris’ superhero alter ego, Captain Spirit, is much more consistently fun to play. Holding in the left shoulder button on some items allows Captain Spirit to take over and exert his godly forces on powerful entities such as an evil Snowmancer, his nemesis Mantroid, or, um, an outdated CRT television. Delving into Chris’ lonely psyche through Captain Spirit livens up interactions with mundane real-world objects. Instead of merely looking at a whiskey bottle as Chris, you can opt to “EVAPORATE” it as Captain Spirit. It’s an excellent way to gamify Chris’ young, creative mind, even if it isn’t used as often as it should be.
Games don’t usually place the player in the shoes of a young child and this protagonist shift gives us a different look on the world. Childhood wonder is rarely replicated in video games, a medium that was probably initially fueled by our own young innocence and imagination. Centralizing Captain Spirit around the aspects that make him a kid and helped me identify more as a former young boy myself.
As a white adult male, I am very clearly represented in all forms of media. But children, regardless of gender, are rarely represented in video games. Because of this, I begrudgingly related with Captain Spirit. Not because I had an agenda against it but mostly because I used to do a lot of the cringe-worthy kid stuff that Chris does. I pretended I had the Force. I used to smash my dinosaur toys on the table. I longed for supernatural powers. However, it’s the type of endearing childhood cringe we all probably have buried somewhere underneath our hardened, adult shells. Captain Spirit utilizes that feeling well and successfully centers a lot of its missions around that theme.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review: Scriptonite is His Weakness
But not all of the game’s cringe is intentional or charming. When Chris isn’t getting lost in his fantasies, he’s interacting with his father, Charles, who bounces wildly between tones. Charles can start out as the dad who taught you how to ride a bike then, out of nowhere, shapeshift into the dad who walked out to get cigarettes and never came back. In what seems like an attempt to inject him with depth and complexity only serves to give the viewer whiplash as his mood violently changes. These shortcomings are a result of the game’s hacky writing and the miscast dad who, at times, sounds like a younger actor trying to imitate Mel Gibson during his infamous voicemail rampages.
In addition to extreme tonal shifts, the writing quality often drastically fluctuates. Life of Strange hella fell victim to hella middle-aged dudes trying to hella write how they thought teenage girls talked. The results were (hella) mixed since the game’s undeniable heart was almost completely overshadowed by its clunky, out-of-touch dialogue.
Captain Spirit’s failures closely mirror Life of Strange; a whimsical nature dampened by its on-the-nose dialogue and wavering performances. It feigns subtly with that mediocre dialogue for some of its heavier themes then awkwardly doubles down and shoves those same themes in your face. Some genuinely great moments shine through, but the game starts to buckle under the weight of the writing it depends so heavily on.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit captures the awkward nostalgia of being a child quite well even if it falters in other areas. Pretending to be a superhero evokes an appropriate sense of childlike imagination and is a perspective we don’t often see in video games. But, as was the case with Life is Strange, cringing at the eye-rolling dialogue becomes an unfortunate part of the experience. Although, as also was the case with Life is Strange, it gives us a unique point of view from a type of person we don’t usually play as in video games. Despite its flaws, that change in viewpoint makes Captain Spirit worth experiencing and gives it its, well, spirit.
Reviewed on Xbox One. Copy provided by publisher.