I got to get in on the Early Access release of this game on Steam back in January, and had a lot of fun with it while I was previewing it. While the game is out of Beta and is officially launched now, as of almost a month ago, I’m happy to say the finished product is what I was expecting and quite a bit more. While this is definitely something of a side-scrolling action or platformer title, there are a lot of puzzles that are going to have you backtracking and moving pieces about to figure out different puzzles, all while you’re being hunted by the critters in the different areas. This isn’t going to be for everyone, but it is definitely something new to try out, and the design is something most people won’t have seen before. How does I actually stack up for the money they’re asking for? Let’s take a look.
This is a single player game, and it does have a story to it, but the story takes a side-seat to the gameplay, and only by matching up the English letter with the runes you can find to translate the tablets throughout the world can you really unlock it all. It’s a bit like learning the Albed language in Final Fantasy X and unlocking the different parts of the language so you can actually understand what they’re saying. The basic gist of it is, you’re playing a bird that’s going around, unlocking and trying to get access to an ancient device by finding different, lesser machines scattered around the landscape and getting them operational so you can get back to the main device to add the next piece. The animals, birds and even plants are out to stop you, with birds attacking you directly or dropping you against the rough plants, wild cats attacking you in trees and even swarms of bugs coming out to devour you. It’s a rough world, and you’re just trying to put the pieces of an even older civilization back together again.
Visually, the game reminds me a bit of Tearaway, as everything has this kind of paper look to it, but while Tearaway went with construction paper, Secrets of Rætikon has gone with a more origami look to it. Everything looks folded in some way, shape or form, and nothing is a simple, solid color. In fact, this game definitely sticks out like The Wolf Among Us for great and liberal use of colors everywhere. It’s a nice mix and a great style, and is very nice on the eyes. The user interface isn’t obtrusive either, and I like the little touches, like when you’re hurt and triangle blood drops from your bird or when you’re carrying different pieces and some of them leave a sort of trail. They do the same thing when you’re hunting for pieces as well, kind of like a visual sonar that works its way into the game instead of sticking out from it. The designs are definitely unique and help to set this game apart from the rest, in a good way. Audibly, the music is decent, but ultimately didn’t stick with me. The sound effects do the job as well, but the bigger impact is definitely the visuals and the gameplay.
Controlling Secrets of Rætikon is a lot of fun with a 360 controller, and while they have options for the keyboard and mouse, both the game and I recommend the 360 controller for this. Yes, you can hook up a PS3 controller for this, I have, but it takes too much to get everything set up initially before you even start the game. This plays a lot like a platformer or console action title if you want to go that route, and it feels more natural playing this with a controller in your hands than the traditional PC interface. To be honest, this very much feels like it’d be at home on the console, especially given how well it works with a controller. That’s not to dissuade PC players who use a keyboard from getting this, but I do think you’ll get more out of this with than without. Why do I recommend a controller? Secrets of Rætikon combines a lot of platforming, action and puzzle game elements together, things we normally see on a console, or at least you would looking at my gaming collection on PC versus the console. It just feels more natural doing all of these things on a controller.
As I mentioned earlier, you’re playing the part of a bird out to collect pieces to power up machines scattered around the world that unlock either other areas or give you a power piece to the main machine you get to at the end of the tutorial. They’ve got a physics engine built into the game that lets you pick up and carry, turn, drop, or manipulate just about anything in the game, including enemy animals out to to get you. Need to get past a rockslide to get some power pieces? Grab and edge and start moving pieces. You might even hit that pesky critter below you trying to get at you. Need some health? Pull up a sapling tree to get your health bar up. Aside from either avoiding or taking out the animals after you, you also have prickly bushes, trees and other assorted plants to worry about. Some of the enemies will grab a hold of you and either chomp on you or try to toss you at the plants. If you have a power piece for the main machine, they’ll also try to take it from you and run away from you with your prize in their possession, leaving you to chase after them because they’re not just going to drop it for you any time soon.
Plant and animal enemies aren’t your only worries. You’ve got different puzzles to get around, including re-assembling broken statues, figuring out paths through dangerous areas, hidden paths to find others, and then of course, because you’re a bird, different wind drafts that can either help you or hinder you depending on the direction you were wanting to go. The areas aren’t linear, and you have quite a few different options to get you where you want to go. This is a very open game as far as that goes. I’d compare it to the Sonic games in that regard, as you have to gather up these power chips to power the machines, there’s not a set path to do it, and if you do get killed, you drop them all right where you were. Unlike Sonic, you’re dealing with a very different environment and control set-up, and you have free reign to tackle any area you want in any order. One of the other neat things you can do, and I recommend doing as it nets you precious power ups, is gathering the cypher pieces from around the different levels and reading these tablets scattered about. As you collect the cypher, you can figure out what the tablet says as it pops on screen with your alphabet on either side and the tablet in the center. It adds to the history of the game and provides the only real story you’re going to get out of the game.
Broken Rules has built some replayability into the game as by being able to forge your own paths, you can tackle the game from different direction each time. Sadly, it doesn’t look like that counts towards changing the ending all that much, but it’ll be different each time you play through. They also added in achievements through Steam for people who like to get those. One thing I think they did right from the launch of Early Access, was to provide the tools to mod the game for players. You can make new levels or areas, change existing ones, and of course because it’s through Steam Workshop, you can also easily share these with everyone. That actually adds more to the game than just being able to simply play through it, as having modding tools from the start is a PC community’s wet dream. Not everyone does it, not everyone does it early, and most of the time it’s up to a few very dedicated individuals to even make it possible to do.
But what about balance? Because the game is fairly open, each new area will present a different set of challenges to get around; some might be more difficult than the others, but overall, I wasn’t stressing out too much depending on what I had to do. More of the issues come from dealing with enemy animals than anything else, as they end up being the biggest challenge to getting around a puzzle or through an area quickly while staying alive. I do have to caution, though, that if you’re expecting a forty hour experience, you’re going to be feeling a little under-whelmed. The game itself clocks in between five and ten hours, depending on how well and quickly you pick up the skillset of making it through the various areas. I don’t think that’s at all unreasonable for the price, which is still cheaper than eating for two at Wendy’s, especially given that you can make your own levels to putter about in them as well. It’s something to think about though.
I do have to say that I’ve played similar games before, but not quite like this. It has more depth to it than a standard platformer or action title, especially with how much you can mess with just about anything on screen. The visuals are definitely stand out, and while it could just be a pretty but shallow game, they added in that lore that you can pick up on as well to give the game a sense of history, despite the fact you’re playing a bird. It’s a great change-up to a few different gaming formulas from the past, and is definitely something new and different to sink your teeth into. I did end up playing this in much shorter bursts than I play most of my games. It might be a bit better that way. While I enjoyed the game, I couldn’t get into it as much for more than an hour at a pop. That’s not a bad thing, especially as the game saves the current state of your areas so you can go back and not lose anything, but it just didn’t grab me for longer stretches that other games have.
I do think this is definitely something people should be checking out, and the price is pretty decent for what you’re getting. It’s a nice shake-up from all the RPGs, MMOs, adventure, action and shooters that usually line my Steam library and laptop, and I think once you get into it, you really can get lost in it for a while. I did notice a few times that I had some slowdown, but nothing major, and it was more my laptop getting clogged and needing a reboot as that fixed it again. So it plays well, runs well and looks great, and if you like the platforming or side-scrolling titles you need to give it a shot.
Short Attention Span Summary
Secrets of Rætikon isn’t your typical side-scrolling platformer, although it takes a lot of cues from the genre and a few others to give the player a new take on it, using a bird and an ancient machine. The visuals are colorful and great to look at, and even better in motion. The levels are well thought out and the open world approach gives players lots of options. From the start, the game has had an editor for players to make their own levels or even edit levels within the game. The gameplay is solid and fun, and although a bit on the short side, it doesn’t reflect in the polish the game has on it now that it’s fully released.