Review: Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus (Sony PlayStation 4)

teddycoverChronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Storybird
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 03/29/2016

Chronicles of Teddy is actually a port of a game called Finding Teddy 2, which is the sequel to a point and click title released a few years back. However, this game stands alone, so you really won’t need the “2” at the end. Apart from the setting, there appears to be very little to tie this game to the first. It’s essentially a Metroidvania game, meaning boss fights, treasure hunting, upgrading your character, and so on. So, knowing that you don’t need to have played the first game, it’s time to see if this is the game for you.

teddy1There’s a degree of setup here to the plot. The king of monster-filled dimension has been usurped, and said king possess the body of teddy bear and enlists the aid of a young girl to free his kingdom. It’s not completely random, though; that teddy bear was previously stolen by the king because he was lonely, and the girl traveled to the monster world to get it back. Somehow, the two became friends. It’s all explained in the introduction, and it’s odd, but kind of cute. After that intro, however, the story goes flat. It’s a straight shot through the levels. You collect some magic eggs, open a door, and fight the boss. There is no attempt at creating lasting and interesting characters; it’s an old school style to fit the old school aesthetic. It’s not a bad thing, but it is disappointing.

Teddy has some of the best pixel art on the market, and it isn’t afraid to show it off. Each of the five worlds you visit are gorgeously done and feel unique from each other. They also have multiple sections that change things up as they go. For example, you may start off in a valley, but you’ll soon enter a sleek palace or the inside of a volcano. The color usage, but it’s not the only thing that sells the look. Moving between screens often ends up changing the perspective. You’re always looking at a 2D platformer, but the camera will pull back and zoom in depending on where you are. Something as simple as this creates variety that keeps the game from getting monotonous. Special attention was also paid to the animations. The girl you play as breathes, her hair flies as she runs, and her clothes ripple as she jumps. It’s a fantastic attention to detail. My only complaint is that the bosses were comparably bland in design.

teddy2To complete the retro aesthetic, the game uses chiptune music. The tunes are often subtle, and sometimes non existent. When they are present, they lift the game up. However, they are noticeable in their absence. One boss fight in particular was done in near silence, which robbed the encounter of its atmosphere. Most notably, music plays a part in the gameplay. Part of the game is collection notes for an instrument called a “musicom” that you use to interact with the world. Other character will speak in tune, and you’ll occasionally have to repeat what you hear to open special chests and/or doors. You definitely need the sound on to play this game, even if there are times when it feels less than it could have been.

While the whole of the game is played Metroidvania style, it’s clear the game’s biggest influence comes from the Zelda 2. In particular, this is because of the combat. She uses a sword and shield. She can duck low to attack, stab upwards when jumping, and perform a downward attack that lets her bounce off of enemies. It’s a system straight out of that NES classic, even down to the shielded enemies that need to be tricked into letting their guard down.

Traversal is done via walking, running, and jumping. You can double tap in a direction to run, or use a shoulder button. Eventually, you’ll earn morn traversal moves such as the angel jump, the wall jump, and the ability to cross water. In addition, there are some platforms that don’t appear until you find the correct colored orb. Think the blocks from Super Mario World. These new moves and items are scattered throughout four worlds, which must be unlocked by finding the correct book in the hub world. You have to travel to the hub to move between worlds, but there is a light fast travel system to make the trek a little less tedious. Typically, revisiting older sections with new abilities yields solid rewards. It’s also straight up required at times to progress.

teddy3At the hub is a store that works a bit differently from normal. It has a number of items that boost your stats. Buying a new sword makes you do more damage, buying new clothes decreases the damage you take, etc. There’s also a diamond that will revive you upon death. The interesting part, is that you can effectively put items on layaway. When you’re at the store, you can dump your marbles (the game’s currency) into an item. When you come back later, the marbles you spent will still be accounted for. When you pay up the difference, the item is yours. This is helpful, as dying in the game punishes you by taking away your hard earned cash.

Puzzles are a big part of the game, and they revolve around the musicom. You find this odd instrument early on, and it lets you decipher the language of the friendly monsters you encounter. They speak in runes, which can be collected to form words. You speak these words by playing them on your musicom. There are twelve runes to collect, and five pages of words to discover. The puzzles usually entail listening to notes and then copying them, or otherwise trying to figure out what words to speak to a door to get it to open. Sometimes this involves deciphering clues in the background. For example, a mural in one room might say something in runes. Translated into English, the runes tell you what to say to a door. Other times you need to remember what words go with what doors. You’ll likely need to keep notes.

At this point, the game is pretty great. However, the combat ends up being its Achilles’ heel. The range of your attacks is simply too short. Late game enemies often have narrow time gaps for you to strike. You’ll find you either come up too short to land a hit, or end up bumping into them. One particularly nasty late game enemy is a slime that throws fireballs and makes himself invulnerable. Usually, you can jump over these things. Get stuck in a tight corridor with one though, and you’ll likely take several hits as you desperately try to get find the sweet spot where you can actually hit him. Another issue is that you have no grace period for damage. This means you can sometimes get stuck in a loop of getting hit without a chance to break out. The boss of the third world can eat up most of your health in a matter of seconds because of this.

There’s also a slight problem with the level design. While the twisting paths and secret doors are cool, you’ll have to deal with some odd obstacle layouts. Once you get the wall jump, touching a wall at all will make you stick to it and start sliding down. That means you can easily end up sliding down a wall instead of jumping over it. In narrow corridors, this makes the platforming a mess. You simply can’t reliably go where you want. Wider spaces could have alleviated this problem greatly.

teddy4It’s worth noting the game doesn’t hold your hand. You’re not told what anything does, nor will an objective marker lead you to where you need to go. If you can’t figure out a puzzle, you’re stuck until you do or look it up. You’re also going to die a bunch before you get through, although part of that is due to the problems I mentioned earlier. Although the game is adorable, it’s not a pushover.

Going through the game will take you somewhere around eight to ten hours. That’s a solid length for a downloadable title. After you’ve taken down the boss, you can go back to get the rest of the collectibles, or start a new game plus. This makes the enemies harder while also unlocking higher level gear for you to collect. All told, this game offers some solid value.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150The bottom line is, despite some hiccups that make the game frustrating at times, Chronicles of Teddy is a pretty sweet game. Working out the puzzles feels good, exploring the worlds is yields rewards, the musicom system is nifty, and there is plenty of content to work through. Fans of the genre should definitely look this one up.



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