Review: Chronology (PC)

Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
Developer: OSOA Games
Publisher: Steam Greenlight
Release Date: 5/12/14

Steam Greenlight is one of those double edged swords that allows indie developers a chance to release their game to one of the largest group of video game consumers around; though sometimes this means that a great game that would otherwise go unreleased gets a chance to shine, it also means that there is also a veritable flood of shovelware that should never have seen the light of day.

Chronology immediately grabbed my attention with an interesting art style full of color, and its description of being a side scrolling platform game that mixes together time shifting, puzzle solving and even some aspects of adventure games. With it being a Steam Greenlight game, that also made me wary, as I’ve played some fantastic indie games and also many that were not so great. Is this Steam Greenlight game worth your time and money?

Kind of.

chonoIn the Steam page for the game, there is a boast of an art aesthetic and animation inspired by Hayao Miyazaki that seems strange to me. Chronology has great art design, colorful and detailed, and even though the game flips back and forth in time between a peaceful past and ruined present, there’s a consistency to the steampunk-like art that really pulls it together well. I loved seeing a dying tree turn into a lush one and vice versa when going back and forth through time. The characters look great and animate well, though for some reason the snail character could only move while facing one direction the whole game. It’s a minor nitpick, but I didn’t understand why the snail couldn’t turn around.

However, aside from using a full color palette, I didn’t see really the link between this game and the influence of Miyazaki’s style. It sort of felt like they were name dropping just to name drop, and to be honest, it worked, because as a fan of Miyazaki’s movies that’s one of the reasons I became interested in the game. While I never really saw a connection between the two styles, Chronology looks good and has a style of its own that the studio should be proud of.

I didn’t find the music and sound effects to be as strong as the art. The music works well in the background, and for an indie title the game is surprisingly fully voice acted. The voice actor for the snail I found to be grating, and the Inventor’s harsh tone made it hard to consider him a sympathetic character. The music sets the scene of the levels well, but doesn’t do much to stand out aside from that.

The art, voice acting and music pull together to tell a story about an Inventor who wakes up to find the world destroyed by the misuse of an energy source dubbed The Verve. He sets out to find out what happened, and eventually how to possibly undo the damage, with an invention that allows him to go back and forth through time, and with a snail that can completely stop time. The story is told both in game through some short conversations between the snail and the Inventor, and through a couple of cutscenes that attempt to provide some context to the world and situation.

Chrono2The game takes place in side scrolling levels, with obstacles that require using the time manipulation mechanics in order to solve and progress past. At this point it’s easy to point out some similarities to Braid, as that game is probably the best known puzzle/platformer that uses time manipulation and also features a strong art style on the market. There are certainly some similarities between the two, however, Chronology sets itself apart with linear side scrolling levels rather than the small puzzle areas of Braid, plus it builds on the various puzzles involved in a different way, eventually adding some very clever adventure game inspired parts, such as needing to find an item and then figuring out how that item fits within the temporal puzzle you are playing with. It’s very well done and controls smoothly as well. Whether it’s manipulating time or swapping characters, the game handles these with simple button presses that become second nature quickly. I played using an Xbox Game Pad, though playing with the keyboard worked just as well.

While I enjoyed the game, my biggest flaw with the game is also sort of ironic given the title and game revolve so much around time; it feels way too short.

Now, there are a number of games that are just fine at shorter lengths. Portal is a fantastic game that I beat in just two hours, which is the same length of time it took me to beat Chronology. The difference between Chronology and some others is that Chronology starts to build upon the puzzles and ideas that it presents throughout the game, to the point where it feels like it’s just about to really begin to push those concepts further… only then, instead of doing so, the game instead goes back to a very basic platforming section before getting to the final scene. I found it extremely anti-climactic. The adventure style stuff had only been a part of a couple of puzzles and I wanted to see that explored more. With Portal, by the time I got to the end, I felt that they had done almost as much as they could with the idea without repeating themselves too much. With Chronology, it’s like they barely got beyond scratching the surface.

Chrono3This feeling is reflected in the narrative as well. The Inventor and the snail travel together though the meat of the game, and the Inventor is mostly a jerk to the snail, while the snail mostly says a lot of cliché things about facing your past. The way the game plays out, it almost seems like it was meant to be one of those ‘two characters don’t get along but they have the same goal and end up becoming friends’ type of stories, only the Inventor is a jerk to the snail until right near the end, and then is slightly less of a jerk, while the snail just remains a super-optimist throughout.

The game could’ve used more time to build on the relationship between the central characters and also delved a little deeper into the puzzle concepts it plays around with. The final stretch before the ending feels anti-climactic, because none of the puzzle skills you learn during the game are used, it’s just a straightforward platforming section followed by a simple scene at the end.

For $10 it’s hard for me to recommend. Despite being let down by the end and how short the game was, I also highly enjoyed the time I spent with it. I wish the game had something more, like higher level puzzles to solve once you’ve beat the game, or maybe some form of creation system to let people build their own puzzles and share them as a way to add value to the package. Anything that would give me a reason to keep coming back to it, because as it stands, I have very little reason to replay the game.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Chronology looks great, plays well and has some very clever time manipulation puzzles. Unfortunately, it ends before it feels like the game fully explores the concepts built within it, and the story also falls short of being as fully developed as it could have been.



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