A game by AlienTrap Games for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and iOS, originally released in 2011.
Capsized begins with a bang. Something has gone terribly wrong, and the crew of a ship must dash for their escape pods. As the player, you’ll be controlling one of these astronauts as his pod crash-lands on an alien planet and he must survive a long trek through the hostile environment, discover what has happened to his shipmates, and hopefully find a way home. The story occurs without the use of any voiceovers, text scrolls, or dialogue of any kind. Cutscenes are displayed as static comic-style panels, featuring the major events of the story. You will occasionally receive in-game prompts regarding movement and objectives, but otherwise, you’ll encounter no dialogue or overt storytelling.

Basic movement in Capsized is a bit floaty, suggesting that the astronaut has landed on a planet with lower than normal gravity. The astronaut has a slow 2x jump (the height is not variable), and he can survive a fall from any height. Pressing up and at an angle against any vertical surface will cause the astronaut to hop his way up the wall, bit by bit.

At the start of the game, the astronaut is equipped with a basic blaster, which fires as quickly as you can press the trigger, but it does not auto-fire. The alt-fire allows you to charge up a more powerful blast.

The single most important tool at your disposal is the Gravity Hook, known in layman’s terms as a grappling hook. The grapple fires all the way across the screen and can latch onto anything. This means that you can essentially reach any point in the environment.

You can extend and retract the grapple at will and increase or decrease your swing speed, making the mechanics similar to those in Ninja Five-O, although not quite as fast or precise (the guy is an astronaut, not a ninja). Also, when you extend the length of the grapple beam, you will continue to be pulled back toward the grapple point, making it a much bouncier tool than you might be accustomed to from other grapple-based games.

You’re not just restricted to ceilings and walls; you can also grapple objects in the environment, and even enemies. Many of the environmental puzzles are physics-based, and you are often tasked with pulling down objects that are blocking your path, or moving objects around to use elsewhere in the level. Not only can you pull objects, you can also pick them up with your grapple, and even launch them through the air with tremendous force. This means that you could pick up a large rock, use it to shield yourself against enemy fire, and then rocket the thing straight into an alien’s face to crush it. You’ll be using this ability to solve some of the environmental puzzles as well, and you also have a Gravity Ram that allows you to launch nearby objects without grappling them. This can be helpful if you find yourself in a tight spot, and you can also use it to launch yourself high into the air by aiming downward and firing.

Another navigational tool at your disposal is the jetpack. The jetpack offers the player free flight around the level without the need to grapple, which can greatly speed navigation and allow the player to make a quick escape from a deadly situation. However, the jetpack has limited fuel, which must be restocked via pickups in the environment. So, you’re still going to need to hone your grappling skills if you hope to get around.

New weapons are acquired throughout your adventure. These new weapons often appear in crates or other wreckage that seem to have been left behind by your crashed ship, which has strewn debris all across the landscape. From a plausibility standpoint, it certainly makes more sense to find weapons from a human source rather than stumbling across usable weapons/upgrades in an otherwise hostile environment, as is typical in titles in the Metroid series, Blaster Master, and pretty much any action-adventure game where you’re navigating a hostile alien planet.

Early on, you’ll acquire a weapon that fires like a machine gun in its primary fire mode, and like a shotgun in alt-fire. This makes it a versatile weapon to have at your disposal in just about any situation. You will acquire heavier armaments in your travels, including weapons that function like flamethrowers, lasers, and rocket launchers. And there are some powerups hidden in the environment as well, which temporarily grant you with new abilities, such as a nanobot swarm that hovers near you and seeks out and destroys nearby enemies.

Each new weapon acquired has limited ammunition. Only your default blaster has infinite ammo, so you’ll need to hunt around for ammo pickups if you’re planning on using heavy firepower… which you’ll need, given the aggressiveness of the enemies.

The enemies in this game are tough, and fast. Even in the first level, you’ll encounter enemies that can swarm your position and make you their lunch in just a few seconds. Getting a bead on enemies in free-aim with a manual-fire blaster can be difficult, and you may find many of your shots going astray as you flee for your life. Once again, the main character is an astronaut, not some kind of paramilitary superhero with bright red pants and no shirt, and this is an action-adventure game, not a straight-up run-and-gun.

So, you need to know your enemies and become familiar with the tools that you have at your disposal. Most importantly, you’re going to want to get good at using the grappling hook. It can get you out of a tough situation quickly, and it can also get you to a safe spot where you can pick off enemies from a distance, rather than assaulting them head-on. Once you obtain some of the more powerful weapons, this becomes less of an issue, but it’s still a bad idea to go charging into a cave full of baddies, because even a well-armed player can become overwhelmed quickly.

In addition to the health meter, any damage you take manifests itself as cracks appearing around the screen, representing the astronaut’s visor. When you’re very close to death, blood spatters will begin appearing as well, letting you know that it’s time to pull back and look for a crack-mending blood-cleaning health restorative. Fortunately, your health is restored between levels as well, so you don’t have to scour the entire level for health if you only managed to limp to the exit. Weapons, ammunition, and fuel do not carry over from level to level, however, so don’t be afraid to let loose… Gather ye blood sprays while ye may.

Something we don’t see too often in action-adventure games these days is a lives system, but it’s in place here, which means you can’t simply rely on the comfort and safety of infinite continues or instant quickloads. You start each level with a set number of lives, which can only be increased by finding 1UPs in the environment. This adds a bit of extra tension to the game, as you might have to repeat a sizeable chunk of gameplay if you don’t tread cautiously. Combine this with the relative frailty of the astronaut, and even a small handful of enemies could be your undoing.

It should be noted that the game is firmly rooted in its explorative nature. Killed enemies stay killed, and changes that you’ve made to the environment with your gravity tools will remain. This means that you can slowly poke around, work your way forward, and discover the best path for yourself, and you can backtrack into safe territory whenever necessary. It’s also worth noting that there is no map in the game, which once again goes against the trend of the more recent action-adventure games, while harkening back to the 8-bit days where the player was rarely ever given a map. There is an arrow that points in the general direction of your next objective, giving you some idea of where you need to go, but your precise destination is not spelled out for you. There are often multiple paths through a level and the player is left to discover each for himself, and the enemies and pitfalls therein. Of course, if you’re intent on finding all of the game’s hidden secrets, then you’ll need to explore them all.

The distinctive visuals set Capsized apart from other 2D games on the market, particularly the incredibly detailed high-resolution backgrounds and the organic creature designs. Additional environmental immersives include dripping water, twitching plants, gas-spitting puffballs, and ambient twittering birds and buzzing insects in the background. Many of the enemies are designed to fit within their habitat, with their colors matching the nearby surroundings, often camouflaging them. This means that you will regularly be stumbling across your enemies as you encroach on their territory. This design offers more of a feeling that you are prompting these creatures to attack you, rather than having them simply programmed to recognize you as an enemy. There are also plenty of nonthreatening creatures who keep to themselves and will not attack, adding a bit of extra flavor to the local fauna. The more humanoid alien creatures, on the other hand, come bearing various armaments – some even have their own jetpacks and shields – and they are all bent on stopping you by whatever means they can.

The game features 3 difficulty levels and same-screen co-op, and it has a number of arcade options, including time trial, survival, and duel modes. The game proper also features end-of-level ranking system that scores the player based on completion time, lives used, the difficulty setting, and the number of secrets discovered within the level. The result is a star ranking for each level that appears on the world map, and encourages replays of previously-completed areas.

8 Bit Horse and Fanboy Confidential spend a few minutes with developers Lee Vermeulen and Jesse McGibney, who discuss their favorite 2D games, what goes into developing a game that’s fun to play, how the design of Capsized was influenced by first person shooters, and some of their development challenges they encountered along the way. Check out the interview below, with several minutes of new footage from multiple levels throughout the game.

AlienTrap Games is a Canadian development studio based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. AlienTrap is essentially a 2-man studio, with programming by Lee Vermeulen, art by Jesse McGibney, and level design work by both, with some additional work farmed out to contractors. The studio went on to develop Apotheon and Cryptark.

Vermeulen’s previous work under the AlienTrap label was the development of an online multiplayer FPS called Nexuiz. Development on Nexuiz began in 2002, with the game being released as a downloadable title in 2005 for PC, Mac, and Linux (with multiplayer support across platforms).

Some of Vermeulen’s FPS sensibilities have carried over to Capsized as well, including the wide array of weapons and alt-fire modes for each, as well as some of the arcade modes.

While Nexuiz was released as an open source freeware game, the title has since been picked up by IllFonic for commercial release, with ports for XBLA and PSN.


Yourself said...

Capsized recently came out on XBLA (July 2013) and is a lot of fun, if rough around the edges. I like the combination of small exploratory stages with flashes of Contra-style action - reminds me of Blaster Master - although occasionally the action gets too intense for its own good.

I love the twin-stick shooting and heavy firepower, but often so many enemies flock onto screen (even in early levels) that I felt like my survival was purely arbitrary. The combat could stand some better pacing (which it could learn from something as old as Super Metroid or new as Shadow Complex).

As for the platforming, the physics provide great feedback and the toys generally work well, but there are one too many means of navigation. Jumping, wall-jumping, jetpacking, AND grappling? Just two would suffice - the jetpack in particular sort of shorthands the exploration altogether.

Minor complaints aside, it's a great effort for a two-man development and well worth the $10 - I look forward to AlienTrap's next (hopefully 2D) game.

One small correction, AJ - you mention there's no lifebar, but the lifebar is right there in the lower left corner of your screenshots! Unless that's somehow an optional feature.

AJ Johnson said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the game, and I see that the XBLA version is just as tough as the PC original.

Good call on the life-bar. I have no idea why I wrote that it didn't have one. I even reinstalled the game to take a look and make sure I wasn't crazy... and apparently I was. I have updated the article accordingly.

Alientrap's next planned release is Apotheon, which is a 2D action-RPG based on Greek mythology. It's looking quite promising.