High Strangeness

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs for PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U, originally released in 2015.
High Strangeness is an action adventure game starring a young man named Boyd whose normal day-to-day life is turned upside down when he inadvertently stumbles into a dimension-hopping journey to save the world from destruction by an unknown enemy.

As the game begins, Boyd is having a strange dream where he is standing in a glitchy area with a plain white background, and he finds himself transformed from his 16-bit self into an 8-bit version. While he sleeps, a mysterious robed figure wanders into his bedroom and then leaves, and Boyd’s cat – named Abydos – follows the shadowy intruder out of the room.

Boyd wakes up and grabs a flashlight, but he doesn’t use it to light the way; rather he equips it as a weapon. When Boyd leaves his bedroom, he finds Shadow Men all around his house, which he destroys with repeated blows from his trusty flashlight. The flashlight is actually the player’s primary weapon throughout his adventure, although several secondary abilities are also gained along the way.

Each time the player swings his flashlight, a stamina meter drains (technically, this is referred to as a mana meter, even though it corresponds largely to physical attacks). If the stamina meter is drained too far, Boyd will be unable to attack, and this meter refills slowly over time. Each destroyed enemy drops an eye – which actually blinks as it lies on the floor – and these are used to restore a bit of health or stamina, depending on whether they are red or green, and they are also used to purchase upgrades.

Defeating several of the black-clad creatures reveals a red skull, and picking it up causes Boyd to pass out. When he wakes up the next day, he finds himself outside and a bit unsure of what has transpired, but he is quickly distracted as his cat runs off. He gives chase, eventually leading him to discover the local convenience store and music shop. The convenience store even has an arcade machine called Father 3, which Boyd laments is not playable because the text is in Japanese, a reference to Nintendo’s still-not-officially-localized cult hit, Mother 3.

In visiting the shops, Boyd gains two new item types: firecrackers and CD’s. Firecrackers may be dropped on the ground, and they explode after a few seconds. These are handy for blowing holes in weakened walls, and they can also be used to damage pursuing enemies. In a nice touch, firecrackers automatically explode when an enemy touches them, essentially acting as land mines.

CD’s may be tossed at enemies to stun them, although this attack doesn’t cause any physical damage until the player purchases the proper upgrade (more on this in a bit). Dropping firecrackers and tossing CD’s also drains the stamina meter a bit, so players must use these abilities judiciously.

Boyd is tasked with rounding up a number of colored crystal skulls, many of which provide him with new abilities. One skull allows Boyd to transfer between the 16-bit world and the 8-bit world, and doing so is core to the gameplay in a number of ways. For one, certain paths are only visible in one world or the other, requiring that the player switch back and forth to traverse certain areas, such as walking through the shallows to cross a body of water.

Moving between worlds sometimes makes it easier to see walls that may be bombed, or tiles that may cause damage when you step on them. Enemies and obstacles sometimes act differently as well, with some enemy movements slowing in the 8-bit world and a decrease in projectile firing rates. However, the 8-bit Boyd moves and attacks more slowly (and only in 4 directions), and he is unable to use his 16-bit dash or combo attacks. There are even some enemies that physically exist in one world but appear as ghosts in the other, requiring that the player switch back and forth in order to defeat them.

Boyd is able to upgrade most of his abilities by visiting special upgrade stations, where he may spend collected eyes to bump up a variety of stats. For instance, fireworks may be upgraded to cause more damage, and Boyd’s flashlight attack speed may be increased. CD’s may be upgraded so that they not only stun enemies but cause damage as well, which makes short work of most enemy types – including bosses – eliminating most of the game’s challenge outside of its (occasionally obtuse) puzzle elements. And, since the game saves at each screen transition, death means that the player only needs to repeat the most recent room, with all of his health restored.

Boyd eventually earns the ability to deploy a temporary shield to defend against attacks. In addition, he earns the ability to summon a pushable block and to summon a ghostly robed creature, both of which are used to solve certain puzzles by weighing down switches or accessing distant points. While most upgrades are optional, the first ghost upgrade is required in order to access a distant switch in a time-based puzzle. Switch puzzles make up the bulk of the challenges, and players are tasked with moving blocks to deflect projectiles, tossing CD’s, or otherwise using their special abilities to activate one or more switches.

The player takes control of Boyd’s cat for a while. As it turns out, Abydos is intelligent and can speak, and he helps Boyd to escape from a prison cell in a short stealth-based sequence. Abydos must avoid patrolling robot guards and stationary sentries while activating a number of computer terminals… and collecting a certain very famous passcode. Robot movement is occasionally unpredictable, resulting in some quick deaths that are only solved by trial and error.

As is typical of the action-RPG genre, the adventure spans a number of unique locales, and Boyd will find himself working his way through the pyramids of Egypt and around moai statues on Easter Island. Between missions, the action stops in favor of exposition, as well as the occasional dream sequence where the face of Mars seems to be communicating with Boyd telepathically... although for some reason Boyd is unfamiliar with the fact that there is a planet called Mars, and requires an explanation from his friend.

The action sequences are shorter than is customary for the genre. There is no map system, but given the small areas and simple layouts, a map is not necessary. The game is filled with the expected amount of dialogue, eventually filling the player in on a global conspiracy in which the future of mankind hangs in the balance, all of which is generally rather trite. A prophecy has deemed that a chosen one will appear to save the world, and that hero is… you.

High Strangeness was developed by Barnyard Intelligence Games, a studio founded in 2010 by Ben Shostak. The game was developed collaboratively with Steve Jenkins’ creative label, Crystal Labs. Music for the game was composed by Dino Lionetti and Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace, who also composed music for FEZ, Bit.Trip Runner 2, Krunch, The Floor is Jelly, Shoot Many Robots, Hyper Light Drifter, and the film It Follows. The game was published by Midnight City, and it also holds the honor of being the first ever Kickstarted video game… way back in 2009.