Secrets of Rætikon

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Broken Rules for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2014.
Secrets of Rætikon is an action adventure game about exploration and discovery, with very few restrictions placed on the player. You take on the role of a bird that has fallen from a great height into the Alpine world below. Aside from an opening tutorial section that familiarizes the player with the controls, the game offers no direction… Simply fly around, interact with the world, search for hidden areas, and take things on at your own pace.

To move about, you must flap your wings, and each tap of the button translates to a single flap. However, unlike Joust where you had to keep flapping like crazy to stay aloft, this bird can hover in the air and even move slowly in all directions without any additional input. Flapping essentially allows for greater speed, more maneuverability, and the ability to reach great heights if you time your button presses properly.

There is a line at the top of the game world which operates similarly to the waterline in Ecco the Dolphin; namely, you are free to dash toward the line and burst out into the world above, but you are then at the mercy of gravity as you fall back down into the area below. Leaping into the air is used occasionally to arc over the jutting tips of mountain peaks, and sometimes used with air currents to reach objects high in the sky.

Air currents are present throughout the experience, shoving you in one direction or another, but you do have the ability to fly against them as needed. However, there are a number of challenges built around navigating strong air currents in areas lined with dangerous thorn bushes. Thorns are one of the few things that will harm you outright, and touching them will remove a small chunk of your health and knock you back.

Most of the world’s furred and feathered residents will leave you alone if you don’t provoke them, although a handful are outwardly aggressive. As you have no direct combat abilities, it is generally wise to flee from aggressors. However, if you do wish to fight, you can grab other animals and fly toward thorn bushes, stopping short and tossing the poor creatures into danger. Hurting an animal enough will cause it to flee from you when you are nearby, but you can still go after it and sling it into the thorn bushes again and again until it is dead, at which point it will drop some health-restoring triangles.

Throughout most of the game, combat is not encouraged. In fact, rewards are occasionally provided assisting other animals, such as carrying a fallen baby bird back up into its nest. Most animals are harmless, and those which are aggressive are often much stronger than you. So, if you leave the docile animals alone and avoid the threatening ones, you can keep your attentions directed toward exploration.

To aid in manipulating the world, the bird is able to grab onto most objects, and the physics-based environment allows you to pull rocks and send them tumbling downhill (potentially onto some harmless bunnies below!). There are also numerous puzzles that task you with collecting pieces of a statue and reassembling it, which requires you to locate the piece, fly it through the environment, and then use your flying skills to pull it around until it faces the desired direction. Reassembling statues generally opens up a new path to explore.

There are numerous hidden passages spread throughout the game world, most of which can be found by paying attention to environmental cues, such as jutting rocks or patches of thorns that seem to disappear into the background. Travelling down these hidden paths may lead to a number of different rewards, including stone tablets, runes, white triangles, and blue experience shards.

Collecting experience shards slowly fills a meter beneath your health bar, and filling it to capacity causes a heart to appear at the top of the screen, representing an extra life. Until this point, getting killed causes you to return to a hub area with your health restored and progress retained, but with the loss of your collected blue shards… which are left to be re-collected in the area where you died. Gaining extra lives essentially gives you the ability to respawn on the spot without having to retrace your steps to retrieve your lost shards. Health can be regained as you play by uprooting saplings, breaking open certain pots, and killing animals.

Scattered around the world are stone tablets etched with mysterious ancient writing. The letters in the text are coded versions of letters in the English alphabet, and they can be translated by discovering the 26 corresponding runes. Strangely, collecting the runes does not automatically translate the text on the stones, so players wishing to read the text will need to manually piece the meaning together by comparing each of the runic characters to their associated English equivalents, spelling out words one letter at a time. The runic versions of the letters aren’t drastically different from their English counterparts, so pieces of some messages can be understood without collecting even a single rune, and you certainly don’t need to collect them all in order to read the messages. In any case, the story contained within the stones is entirely optional.

In addition to health restoring red triangles and experience boosting blue triangles, the world is also populated with white triangles, which are used to pass through gateways. Gateways can only be opened by sacrificing a number of these white triangles (the number is indicated on each device), thus allowing the player to pass and reach a new area. In each of these locked areas is a diamond-shaped object that the player must bring back to a hub area, which contains a giant contraption with seven diamond-shaped receptacles. Upon activating each of them, a stone slides out of the way, revealing a caged animal within, and a yellow line of energy connects to the center of the device. Locating each of these seven diamonds and bringing them back to the hub is your primary means of progression… but it isn’t easy.

Once you collect a diamond, you’ll need to fly through the environment to reach the hub. At this point, many formerly docile creatures suddenly become hostile, attempting to grab the diamond from your clutches and fly away. Much of the game’s design supports nonviolence, but it becomes difficult to retain this pacifism when you’ve just watched a bird grab a diamond away from you for the 20th time. Not only do the birds steal the object from you, but they toss it from one bird to another in a maddening game of keep-away that brings to mind the cruel amusements of schoolyard bullies. The best way to stop them from taking advantage of you is to kill them all.

In addition to simply flinging birds into danger, you can also lure smaller birds into the territory of larger ones and let the bigger bird do your dirty work for you. Creative players may also find that uprooting certain thorny plants gives them the ability to cause melee damage, as they swing them around for protection, or leave them trailing behind to thwart birds coming up to attack from behind. If you lose track of the diamond during the fracas, you have a SCREAM button that works a bit like sonar, pointing you in the direction of the object, even if it’s offscreen. You can also use this technique to locate nearby white shards.

You don’t have to kill any of the creatures… you can simply chase them down and grab the diamond out of their claws and attempt to get away. Of course, they will give chase, at which point, you will need to take advantage of air currents and well-timed flapping to make your escape, as well as dropping down quickly using the DIVE button, and even dropping down underwater. Fortunately, your aggressors will not chase you through screen transitions, so you are able to preserve some progress if you manage to move into a new area.

The game has no map, so it is up to you to find your own way through the world and figure out how to get back to the hub when you have collected each of the diamonds. Eventually, you will find that the world wraps all the way around horizontally, and there are even a few shortcuts that lead from one section to another, so you may be able to take alternate routes to reach your destination. But even when you’ve made it into every area, chances are that you missed an alcove here or there, and the game encourages players to check every corner of the world, searching along every cave wall, flying to the highest points, and diving to the deepest depths.

Secrets of Rætikon is a follow-up to Chasing Aurora, and it is built using the same engine, but focuses on a single player experience rather than multiplayer. Both games feature a highly angular design with a world created mostly in vector-based triangles. The game also features a level editor which can be used to edit the entire game world or create something new from scratch, create new physics-based objects, and share creations with other players.

Secrets of Rætikon was developed by Broken Rules, based in Vienna, Austria. The studio was founded by Felix Bohatsch, Jan Hackl, and Peter Houska in 2009, and added Martin Pichlmair and Clemens Scott in 2010. Music and sound effects for the game were created by Christof Dienz.

The studio has several commercial releases, including And Yet It Moves and Chasing Aurora. Development for Secrets of Rætikon began in 2011.

Chasing Aurora is notable for being a launch title on the Wii U eShop service in 2012. Rather than the single player experience presented in Secrets of Rætikon, Chasing Aurora is a multiplayer action game, featuring racing, tag, hide & seek, and airborne brawling, although there is a time-based checkpoint mode available in single player as well. The game features 5P local co-op within the same mystical triangular papercraft world.

And Yet It Moves was the studio’s first title and has been released across numerous platforms, including an enhanced port on WiiWare, and it has won a number of awards. The game was originally showcased as a prototype in 2007, and based on interest in the title, the studio went on to develop it into a full game.

And Yet It Moves is an action puzzler where players have the ability to rotate the game world to solve platforming challenges. Rotating the world not only impacts the static platforms and walls, but also affects creatures and physics-based objects, which means that you could potentially send heavy boulders down to crush you. You also need to be careful not to let your character fall too far, lest he be killed. The visuals are that of a paper collage, featuring folded paper objects and an illustrated paper cutout as the main character.