Mento's May Mastery: Day 17: NaissanceE

...I kinda want to play an IGAvania. The Grumps are on a typically disastrous SOTN run right now, and Two Best Friends Play are pretty deep into an Aria of Sorrow playthrough (that one's pretty good. Liam, the most skilled of that particular crew, is going over popular speedrun tips as he plays). Other LP channels are no doubt covering the IGA game of their choice as part of this ambitious YouTube LPer-affiliated promotion the Kickstarter has going on. Personally, I just dug up my copy of Dawn of Sorrow and am halfway tempted to jump back into it. I then remembered that I have plenty of games to play this month already, and even more the following month.

Still, though, I had to think for a moment just how many of these 2D IGAvania games there are. There's three for the GBA and three for the DS, many of which tended to sneak in under people's radars or were released too close to the previous portable Castlevania to be a tempting purchase. Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia. And, if you can find them for a reasonable price, the PS2 Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness. I've talked about these games elsewhere, as a staging ground for an abortive VinnyVania journey of my own.

Despite the silly anime portraits and "magic seal" shoehorned-in touchscreen functionality business, Dawn of Sorrow's a pretty good one. It's also the only one I seem to own besides the XBLA SOTN, so I'm really spoiled for choice. Well, maybe after all these LPs end I'll be too sick of Castlevania to worry about it.


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Talking of awkward jarring segues, NaissanceE is one of those first-person adventure games that is light on the action and heavy on the exploration and jumping puzzles. There's been a whole lot of these for the PC in the past eight years, most of which have been inspired by Valve's Portal; a game that taught game designers that they could create a neat first-person game in Source or Unreal without filling it with guns and explosions. I'm no game designer (anymore), but it feels like it would be relatively easy to do one of these types of games, especially if you decide to not include any sort of clever puzzle gimmick whatsoever like NaissanceE.

You might notice that these screenshots are from the wiki. That's because I'm playing it on 600x800 right now to maximize the framerate. At least all these bare walls means I won't have to worry too much about Unreal's usual texture pop-in problems.
You might notice that these screenshots are from the wiki. That's because I'm playing it on 600x800 right now to maximize the framerate. At least all these bare walls means I won't have to worry too much about Unreal's usual texture pop-in problems.

There's not much of a story in NaissanceE. You're a young woman named Lucy who is lost in an enormous maze of blocks and unknown, possibly manmade, structures. There's not a whole lot of color besides the occasional blue or red tint: the game instead uses its stark monochrome to enhance some incredible lighting effects and make the already sterile environment even more uncomfortable and alien. It sometimes feels like I might be inside a computer, or some sort of abandoned future arcology, or the fevered dream of a cubist painter. Either way, there's no answers to be found in the immediate landscape: no dialogue to be heard, no hints to perceive beyond the contextual, no diary entries of people talking about what cubes they ate for dinner before hearing a loud noise outside their cube-house and dropping their cube-pens to go investigate. If the game has a story to tell, they're going to wait until the end of the game to tell it, not unlike QUBE or Antichamber. As if to ground the bizarre maze-like environments you're wandering through, many of which I feel are deliberately trying to confuse and disorient me, the protagonist is strictly limited to a crouch, a jump and a limited sprint that makes longer jumps possible. Most of the game's "puzzles" have simply involved jumping from one platform to another, or using nearby light sources to change the properties of certain blocks. That's really been it so far.

Remember when I talked about awkward jarring segues earlier, like it was some sort of meta joke about how I wasn't segueing into anything? Well, this game has those. Every time you hit a checkpoint, the game lets you know by suddenly freezing the game for a few seconds before letting you run off and have fun outside. These jarring freezes may well also double as transitions, loading the next part of the world while removing the previous, in which case they're a little less inexplicable but still just as irksome. The fun part is that reloading the game (say, because you fell off the world like a klutz) will drop you off just before this transition, rather than just after. That means every time you die, you wait for the character to slump to a stationary bloody position, hit the button to reload, wait for it to load, start forward and then hit the transition for another brief loading time. It truly is fantastic checkpoint design.

I wonder if the game's title is meant to be pronounced
I wonder if the game's title is meant to be pronounced "nay-sons-ay", like fianceé. That extra E is weirding me out.

I'm really not sure about this one. It looks great, and I'm fascinated by how it respects the player's intelligence (if not their time) by creating a number of these confusing little mazes to follow around, but I'm not sure it's actually any fun. I am sure that I'm not doing it any favors by playing it on a PC that's clearly struggling to run it (a fairly ubiquitous sentiment with these May Madness blogs, I'll admit), as the resulting jerkiness is greatly deleterious to the timing of the more difficult jumps. I might bash my head against it some more tomorrow, though it's just as likely that I'll skip over it and try the next game on my list. I'm not short on them, believe you me.

Day 01: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 11: MiasmataDay 21: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 02: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 12: BotaniculaDay 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 03: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 13: BotaniculaDay 23: The Nightmare Cooperative & Lilly Looking Through
Day 04: Life of PixelDay 14: Shantae: Risky's RevengeDay 24: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Day 05: Life of PixelDay 15: Bit Dungeon IIDay 25: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 06: SPAZDay 16: Stick it to the Man!Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 07: SPAZDay 17: NaissanceEDay 27: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 08: NightSkyDay 18: The SwapperDay 28: The Banner Saga
Day 09: The RoomDay 19: ClaireDay 29: The Banner Saga
Day 10: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty RevengeDay 20: DokuroDay 30: The Banner Saga
Finale: Papers, Please