Indie Game of the Week 160: Chronicles of Teddy

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It might surprise you all to learn that I played another explormer this week. In my defense, however, it's the sequel to a game that was decidedly not exploration or platforming focused. Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus (also known as Finding Teddy II) is a 2D explormer that, in addition to its genre roots, feels part Zelda II (the heroine can perform up-stabs and down-stabs), part Fez (there's a whole in-game language that you learn in pieces, the mastery of which can lead to a lot of goodies), and part an Amiga platformer (the artist loves gradient fills and weird Roger Dean-style colossal creatures in its backdrops, and the synthy ambient soundtrack is reminiscent of that old sound hardware also).

When I played Finding Teddy some seven years back, I remarked that it had a certain distinctiveness. Adventure games don't generally truck with entire fake musical languages - the only other example I can think of is Loom, and it's not quite the same execution - but communication was integral to solving a lot of Finding Teddy's puzzles. Now that the girl's old enough to wield a sword and shield, and the game's become a little more homogeneous as far as what the Indie crowd is into making, I might argue that it's lost a bit of its unique magic. However, it still retains that fictional language mechanic and doles out the various phonemes at a slow rate, hiding them in special treasure chests. Most of the time you're learning new words from speaking to NPCs and then applying it to those few times where you need to (nicely!) tell a guardian - a colossal creature guarding the gates to the local dungeon - to get out of the way. Sometimes you can learn command words that operate the same as traversal upgrades: there are doors and chests covered in crystals, for example, which can be removed by voicing the right command word to a nearby crystal cluster. It's a system marginally less sophisticated than, say, the musical instruments and tunes of the Zelda series but the game still finds some intriguing applications for it, from figuring out door passwords to reciting songs back to fireflies "Simon Says" style as a form of collectible. The story's perfunctory in comparison: in Finding Teddy a nameless little girl is teleported to a magical world when her teddy is kidnapped by a lonely tyrant that the girl eventually befriends, and this game starts a few years later with the slightly older girl fighting the evil wizard that usurped her friend's throne.

I have no idea what this is, but it's very bigh.
I have no idea what this is, but it's very bigh.

Chronicles of Teddy also an impressively large game. The action is split up between a library nexus and four moderately-sized worlds that are contained within its books. Each of these worlds has an overworld area and a dungeon area, and the former has puzzles and challenges that eventually lead to entering the latter, where you defeat a boss and collect a plot-vital magic egg needed to access the final boss. While you can explore any dungeon in its entirety on your first visit - in true Zelda style, you can collect one or more traversal upgrades that give you access to the entire place - the overworlds are full of barriers and secrets you can optionally backtrack to once you have the right gear and knowledge to surpass them. There's a currency in the game, through which you get most of the game's more quotidian upgrades: more health, more armor, more offense, etc. though the game has this unfortunate fail state where it halves your current money total if you should happen to perish. Because the vast amount of the money you find comes from chests - they can spit out anywhere between fifty to several hundred, while most enemies drop around a tenth of that - that also limits how easy it is to make money for some of the pricier upgrades, as chests don't respawn. I've almost cleaned the store out after three worlds though, so I think there's enough slack if you screw up or twice. I've taken to saving before bosses and quitting to the main menu without saving after a death and reloading from there, and that lets me hold onto whatever I was carrying. I don't really think that fail state was necessary, or if they have to insist on some sort of penalty they might've considered Shovel Knight's approach and give the player a chance to recover their lucre with a corpse run.

Honestly, beyond the fictional language thing and the always-welcome Zelda II combat moves, Chronicles of Teddy is - as I said before - not quite as distinctive as its forebear, even if it is considerably more involved and overall a perfectly acceptable explormer game. I'm having my usual fun noting down places to backtrack to and screenshotting my maps, and as the below image attests to the game has some very accommodating navigation tools even if the way the map connects rooms can be a little inexplicable. The platforming's adequate with the usual double-jump and wall-kick upgrades, but the combat can suffer from the incredibly short range of the heroine's knife weapon (upgrades just improve damage, not reach) and obtuse enemy hitboxes that makes bosses especially kind of annoying to hit without taking damage yourself. It rectifies this to some degree with the aforementioned Zelda II mechanics, which in addition to the vertical stabs also has a lot of enemy types that require a bit of finesse to overcome, attacking from an angle that the enemy isn't currently guarding. I've a lot of fondness for the game's art direction and the music, though the main character sprite looks like this hunched over insomniac; possibly an intentional character quirk, as the same heroine in the first game had this sort of lugubrious tiny goth appearance. She's evidently been through some shit either way.

The map system might be regarded as being a little too free with its secrets, but color-coding certain areas based on their content - blue means there's optional chests/collectibles there, gold has more valuable chests containing upgrades or key items - is super handy when backtracking.
The map system might be regarded as being a little too free with its secrets, but color-coding certain areas based on their content - blue means there's optional chests/collectibles there, gold has more valuable chests containing upgrades or key items - is super handy when backtracking.

It probably comes off as damning with faint praise to call Chronicles of Teddy an inoffensive and agreeable game of its very specific and well-represented type, but that is what it is. It certainly deserves better than the "mixed" reviews it has on Steam, which I can only assume came about from the developers publicly decrying anime tiddies or fascism or something else that sets off that particular throng. I've enjoyed my time exploring its worlds and taking down its bosses, and the unusual visuals and language puzzles does put it a little above the truly generic explormer fare out there even if I sometimes wish it played a little better.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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