Because production cycles are so long in the games industry, it takes a while for a bad economic climate to show its face in the finished products. So it figures that the end of 2010 is shaping up as the most recession-y videogame-release season in years. The games aren’t low budget, but the concepts are so familiar and safe that they’re clearly intended to deliver a reliable profit, and no more. “Don’t take chances” is the mantra, so even the promising games—and there are plenty of those—display a remarkable lack of guts. (Still, those crafty developers did manage to slip a few new ideas through their respective committees.) So here’s The A.V. Club’s preview of gaming’s ultra-conservative 2010 blockbuster season. Prepare to be unsurprised.
Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)
Premise: In this prequel to the original Halo: Combat Evolved, the Covenant of alien invaders launches an assault on Reach. According to Halo lore, that’s the planet where a kid named John grew into a soldier named Master Chief, the face that launched a million message-board avatars.
Potentially risky innovation: The single-player campaign includes a dogfight level in outer space, a first for the typically land-bound shooter.
Safety factor (1-10): 9. The space combat is new, but Bungie reps were eager to emphasize in media preview sessions that it will be a very small part of Reach. (Too bad, because it’s beautiful.) Other minor additions, like player-customized weapon loadouts and new multiplayer power-ups, reinforce the impression that Bungie and Microsoft don’t plan to mess with the Halo template that made them billions.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: Perpetual second-tier villain Mysterio makes his presence felt by blurring the boundaries between four separate universes. In a happy coincidence, each one of those universes corresponds to a different incarnation of the Spider-Man mythos.
Potentially risky innovation: As players shift between the four versions of Spider-Man, the style of the game changes—the Noir Universe values stealth, while the Ultimate Universe is a frenzied slugfest.
Safety factor: 7. Developer Beenox seems to have set the stage for a hot mess by attempting to make four games in one, but in practice, the multiple Universes are variations on a simple 3-D platformer core. And the tropes at work here are familiar: the Noir levels, for instance, borrow heavily from Batman: Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell.
PlayStation Move (PlayStation 3)
Premise: At long last, industry leader Sony brings motion control to people who have always found Nintendo’s Wii too damn affordable.
Potentially risky innovation: The glowing orb on the Move not only helps the PlayStation Eye camera track the controller accurately in 3-D space, it also makes Move the new king of dorky-looking gaming accessories. Move over, Wii-mote golf-club attachment.
Safety factor: 9. If carbon paper still existed, Sony Computer Entertainment’s plagiaristic offices would be running out of it. Just because Move is unoriginal doesn’t mean it will be bad, though: It’s less fidgety and more precise than a Wii-mote, for starters. And given that the state of motion-control art has stalled on the Wii (witness Shigeru Miyamoto’s underwhelming Wii-mote demo at E3 this year—”You can swing it like a sword!”), it will be interesting to have another major studio in the mix.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V (PC)
Premise: Turn by turn, players expand their nations, squeezing out dishonorable competitors until their civilization reigns supreme, or until they realize it’s 5 a.m. and they haven’t gone to the bathroom in 18 hours.
Potentially risky innovation: The Civ V map is divided into hexagons instead of squares, the biggest visual change to the series since Civilization III made the bold decision to not have the game look like complete ass.
Safety factor: 8. The developers at Firaxis know where the sweet spot is on Civ: They rearrange the formula just enough so that to an average player, a new entry in the series feels fresh yet familiar, while to a micro-managing Civ buff, it seems like a whole new game. The only risk is that the passionate fans will reject Firaxis’ changes, but even in that case, Civ’s modding tools are sophisticated enough that industrious players will probably fix any perceived shortcomings themselves.
Professor Layton And The Unwound Future (DS)
Premise: Professor Layton and his friend Luke solve puzzles given to them by fellow Londoners, none of whom find it odd that an eccentric English gentleman professor and his tween-aged assistant would spend every waking hour together.
Potentially risky innovation: The series, which already has a propensity for circuitous plots, jumps into the time-travel morass for the first time. That may still be less confounding than the ghosts and mass hallucinations in the last couple of Layton games.
Safety factor: 10. Level-5 can only take its “A is twice as old as B but four years younger than C” fare to so many places, so expect Unwound Future to be a delightful sequel that’s largely indistinguishable from its predecessors.
Dead Rising 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Just as in Dead Rising, play consists of beating back pantload after pantload of shambling zombies, except that this time, the pants are a little bigger.
Potentially risky innovation: A four-player multiplayer mode functions as a zombie-killing game show. One round places players in giant hamster balls (à la American Gladiator) and invites them to squash as many undead as possible.
Safety factor: 9. In spite of the addition of RPG-style weapon-crafting, there’s no cause for alarm—the designers of gaming’s most mindless zombie title didn’t suddenly go all thinky on us.
Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock (PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: Watch colored lights. Tap colored buttons. Occasionally, Gene Simmons comes on to narrate some extraneous warrior-quest folderol. Hit the A button to skip.
Potentially risky innovation: The new Warriors Of Rock guitar has a removable body that can be switched out with other designs, aping the Xbox 360 swappable-faceplate feature, which took the world by storm.
Safety factor: 10. As usual, you’re paying for a bunch of new songs you can play on your old plastic axe, and at this point in the series, publisher Activision doesn’t really bother to pretend otherwise.
Final Fantasy XIV (PC [PlayStation 3 release slated for 2011])
Premise: A noble coalition—consisting of elves, cat-humans, and the kind of medieval warriors you drew on the back of your notebook in eighth grade—band together to fight evil in the second Final Fantasy MMO.
Potentially risky innovation: Players will be able to switch their jobs—the RPG term for “stuff their characters are good at”—more readily than in Final Fantasy XI. Also, Square Enix says there will be no leveling system in this more equipment-focused game.
Safety factor: 9. Because of course there will be a leveling system; they’ll just call it something different. Square Enix has often taken chances with the Final Fantasy name, giving the main series over to various producers with divergent visions—as evidenced by the chasm in style between FF12 and FF13—and having faith that the series’ overall integrity will endure. FF14 is not part of that risk-taking tradition. While it will likely be a fine MMO just like FF11 was, there’s something desperate about sneaking these online games into the pantheon of roman-numeraled entries.
Fallout: New Vegas (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Call it Fallout 3.5. Three years after Fallout 3, you play a Las Vegas courier who gets knocked around and left for dead by high-roller thugs. Thanks to a security robot who happened to be nearby, you survive to roam the world again and mete out justice—or injustice, should you choose.
Potentially risky innovation: Your loyalty to the Vegas area’s various factions will play an important role in your character makeup, and there’s more weird humor in New Vegas than in Fallout 3. These features revive minor elements from pre-Bethesda Fallout 3 games, so it’s a stretch to call them “innovation,” but it’s the closest this game comes.
Safety factor: 8. Bethesda took some risk in farming one of its crown jewels out to Obsidian for development. The top minds at Obsidian have earlier Fallout titles all over their résumés, though, so it isn’t a huge stretch. By all appearances, New Vegas hews closely to the format of its predecessor, content to rejuvenate the joy of Fallout 3’s exploration and branching story with a brand-new setting.
Fable III (PC, Xbox 360)
Premise: You flee the Kingdom of Albion’s royal palace after a showdown with your ruthless brother, the king. Vowing to stick it to the man, you hone your talents of combat, commerce, and side-questing to recruit followers and build your own base of power. Since this is Fable, tough choices and character-defining moments abound.
Potentially risky innovation: The interaction in Fable III has been streamlined since the last game: Menus have been banished wherever possible, and the beginning of the game wastes much less time on mundane tutorializing. At a recent preview meeting in New York, Peter Molyneux talked about how the opening sequence of the game lasted an hour and a half in early drafts—it now plays out in a breezy 15 minutes or so.
Safety factor: 7. Molyneux has a tendency to wax idyllic on his games, but he doesn’t consider them sacred. Fable III looks like it will uproot much of the foundation laid by the first two Fable games, diminishing the focus on right-vs.-wrong morality and instead inviting players to build a character through more subjective, multi-faceted choices. Still, no game with a “III” at the end of its title can qualify as a risky move.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: In the opening scenes, a hulking loner called Monkey escapes imprisonment by the ruthless robots who rule Earth in the mid-22nd century. But he only makes it out with the help of a gadget whiz named Trip, who also equips him with a slave headband that forces him to obey her orders. Awkwardness ensues.
Potentially risky innovation: Director Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy) and his team have motion-captured the bejesus out of every character in Enslaved, with Serkis donning the mo-cap suit himself for the role of Monkey. The result is a striking onscreen cast of characters that look natural and expressive in preview builds.
Safety factor: 5. The strained teamwork dynamic between Monkey and Trip, as rendered by the lead creative minds of Serkis and writer Alex Garland, offer the promise of a new experience. On the other hand, advance footage of a level in which Monkey hops on a zooming electromagnetic surfboard make it clear that Enslaved could lapse into standard action-game claptrap.
Medal Of Honor (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: A supposedly realistic rendering of battle conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, offering players all the thrill of an Asian land-war quagmire without any of the cumbersome geopolitical consequences.
Potentially risky innovation: This series reboot is the first Medal Of Honor title to take place in the present day. The past decade’s worth of MOH games were set during World War II, with nice, vivid lines between good and evil.
Safety factor: 8. Setting a game in a painful, still-ongoing war is a thorny undertaking, but rest assured that Medal Of Honor will have nothing consequential to say about it.
Super Scribblenauts (DS)
Premise: You type in the name of a thing, and that thing appears on the screen—it’s like Google Images in your pocket. Make all your typed-to-life animals, vegetables, and minerals interact with each other to solve puzzles and mini-missions.
Potentially risky innovation: The headliner feature in the Scribblenauts sequel is the addition of adjectives, which may be the first time that a part of speech has been a marketing bullet-point for a videogame. The game’s quarrelsome controls have been addressed, kind of, with a new D-pad control option that isn’t less clumsy so much as a different kind of clumsy.
Safety factor: 9. Rather than face any of Scribblenauts’ conceptual flaws, the Super edition throws more words at the problem—or adds to a glorious lexicon of fun, depending on how much you liked last year’s game.
Power Gig: Rise Of The SixString (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Watch colored lights. Strum a real guitar. Occasionally, your buddy on drums will ask to switch with you. Ignore him.
Potentially risky innovation: The SixString is a fully functional electric guitar created for the game, but Power Gig won’t require players to learn actual chords. The more startling innovation is the AirStrike drum set, a debacle in the making that asks players to air-drum into invisible infrared beams. Early AirStrike units performed poorly in media preview sessions this year. Fortunately, drum sets from other games will work with Power Gig.
Safety factor: 4. There’s nothing safe about releasing a Guitar Hero clone when the rhythm-game trend is fading, and the game’s commitment to a more authentic instrument is brave as well, although undermined by the bizarre drum controller. Too bad the SixString’s mojo has already been quashed by the Rock Band juggernaut.
Rock Band 3 (PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: Watch colored lights. Strum a real guitar. Or mash keys on your fake keytar.
Potentially risky innovation: Rock Band gets a working electric guitar of its own, manufactured by Fender. Plus a 102-button quasi-stringed guitar from MadCatz. Plus a keyboard. There was much rending of garments in the Power Gig offices the day this news hit the web.
Safety factor: 9. Unlike Power Gig, Rock Band isn’t basing its identity on the new instruments—the accessories just burnish Rock Band’s reputation as the less homely, more musically diverse alternative to Guitar Hero.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: Vader’s apprentice, Starkiller—or a clone thereof—is back, but this time with two lightsabers!!!!
Potentially risky innovation: Controls that function properly. An overhaul of the targeting system seeks to address players’ top complaint about the original Force Unleashed. Starkiller’s already ludicrous Force powers will be stepped up even further, to TIE Fighter-crushing levels. And we can only hope there will be no freaking pull-the-Star-Destroyer-from-the-sky boss fights.
Safety factor: 10. Like the recent successes Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed II, Unleashed II appears to be consumed with two straightforward goals: addressing the mistakes of the first game, and adding more of the stuff that worked.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Yet another member of the prolific Belmont clan has a run-in with the dark arts when Gabriel Belmont’s wife is murdered by shadowy forces and gets stuck in limbo. It’s nothing an angry dude with a whip can’t fix.
Potentially risky innovation: The developers have claimed that Lords Of Shadow will move beyond quick-time events—those “press button… now” moments that have become a standard crutch for action games. Then again, the game’s E3 demo was full of quick-time nuisances, so who knows.
Safety factor: 7. In most cases, a “dark, gritty” 3-D revamp of a venerable game series is the safest, laziest decision a publisher could make, but bringing Castlevania into the third dimension has proven to be a fool’s errand more than once. The presence of Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle, and Natascha McElhone in the cast indicates that this is the most ambitious attempt yet to break the Belmonts free of the platformer mold.
Splatterhouse (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Just like that Belmont guy, Rick Taylor is on a quest to rescue his girl from evil monsters. Rick’s approach is a little different, though: He puts on a Mayan Terror Mask he had lying around, and it transforms him into a bloodthirsty, musclebound maniac.
Potentially risky innovation: A huge amount of blood. “Gory” doesn’t capture the bacchanalia of plasma on display in Splatterhouse, a revival of the late-’80s arcade game of the same title. Expect another round of Good Morning America segments with the headline “Are Videogames Too Violent?”
Safety factor: 8. It’s the type of dark, gritty 3-D revamp mentioned above, although Splatterhouse isn’t a household name like Castlevania.
Costume Quest (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: A role-playing game masquerading as a kiddy trick-or-treat adventure.
Potentially risky innovation: Blurring genre lines. In the first title from DoubleFine since Brütal Legend, Tim Schafer’s studio is still mucking around with the traditional categories of gaming. DoubleFine’s lead animator, Tasha Harris, is the creator of this Halloween-themed game where costumed kids frolic around town grabbing candy—at least until small-town conflicts force them to get their RPG on and enter a stylized fantasy battle mode. (Shades of the South Park episode “Good Times With Weapons.”)
Safety factor: 3. Say what you will about DoubleFine, they don’t do safe.
LittleBigPlanet 2 (PlayStation 3)
Premise: Tired of platformers? Fine. Now you can make any kind of game you want. Or, like 99.9 percent of players, just wait and see what the diehard LBP fans create.
Potentially risky innovation: Hunting for the worthwhile user-created levels on the original game’s ramshackle social network was a maddening exercise. Dev house Media Molecule is painting a few coats of Web 2.0 on the sequel, in the hopes that the “Share” part of its “Play. Create. Share.” motto will finally hold up its end of the bargain.
Safety factor: 9. LittleBigPlanet never became the world-changing (and PS3-selling) phenomenon that Sony hoped it would be, but it has built a loyal following, and Media Molecule seems content with that. With a slew of new programming tools and LBP 1 backward compatibility, LBP 2 is designed to delight the existing fans first, and maybe recruit some new ones second.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)
Premise: Players take part in a secret Cold War plot spanning decades and executed by a “black ops” squad, which is game-developer parlance for “guys who are allowed to commit whatever unspeakable violence we can come up with.”
Potentially risky innovation: The Call Of Duty series has so far taken place either in World War II or the present-day setting of the Modern Warfare games. Now developer Treyarch has realized there’s a whole half-century of aggression and proxy wars in between, just waiting to be explored through the sensitive, considered lens of a first-person shooter.
Safety factor: 10. It’s the reliable formula of Call Of Duty, plus Apocalypse Now, minus irony.
Kinect (Xbox 360)
Premise: Ditch the gamepad and control games with your body, using a camera that maps your skeleton and tracks your movements from on top of the TV. The perfect gift for gamers and paranoid conspiracy theorists alike.
Potentially risky innovation: That would probably have to be the whole “no buttons” deal.
Safety factor: 3. The Kinect’s launch titles look like the same sports and mini-game standards that have ruled the Wii, but in every other respect, the Kinect is a brave move from a company notorious for unoriginality. Potential trouble spots: The $150 price for the Kinect accessory is a little dear when an entire Wii can be had for $200. And the demos at E3 this year were fun, but nobody can be sure the thing will work in the wild. On the other hand, critics who complain that Kinect may not be able to track seated players are missing the point. While the era of the controller isn’t ending anytime soon, Microsoft might be broadening the gamut of gaming experiences—or maybe just providing a venue for a slew of crappy dance games.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Ezio Auditore—or, if you want to pick nits, the holographic projection of Ezio—works in tandem with his league of junior assassins to continue his fight against the Templars. That struggle is a bit tougher now that a Templar is Pope.
Potentially risky innovation: The Ezio of Brotherhood looks like more of a rock-’em sock-’em type, with a combat system that encourages more active aggression and weird, cannon-blasting battlefield sequences.
Safety factor: 9. Brotherhood adds multiplayer to an essentially single-player game, which is the most weathered page in the game-development playbook. The surprise is that Ubisoft may get it right: Judging by the glimpses the company has shown the press, the multiplayer modes will depend on stealth and subterfuge. It looks honest to the spirit of a clandestine assassin—more so than the new wrinkles on the single-player side.
Gran Turismo 5 (PlayStation 3)
Premise: Cars go fast. Your car goes fastest? Win!
Potentially risky innovation: The poor bastards on the Gran Turismo team are the company’s go-to guys whenever the Sony mothership needs a game to showcase some wrongheaded new technology venture. (There’s a reason GT5 took six years to come out.) Thus GT5 will include support for the company’s latest boondoggle, stereoscopic 3-D televisions.
Safety factor: 9. Even with newer sims like iRacing.com that rival (or surpass) Gran Turismo in terms of realistic driving response, GT5 will still be a gorgeous, best-in-class way to pretend you’re a real-life racecar guy.
GoldenEye 007 (Wii)
Premise: The only great James Bond game gets an overhaul for the Wii. (A separately developed remake is slated for simultaneous release on the DS.)
Potentially risky innovation: Tweaking a masterpiece. The original screenwriter of the film GoldenEye—Bond series mainstay Bruce Feirstein—has updated the GoldenEye 007 story to fit a 2010 context. A new Bond modeled on (and voiced by) Daniel Craig has replaced Pierce Brosnan’s chunky old rendition. It isn’t exactly Peter Jackson condensing Tolkien, but expect some fans to be upset that anyone would tamper with the ür-text of console first-person shooters.
Safety factor: 10. The only factor that kept this obvious, long-anticipated remake from being made earlier is the same one that’s holding up the next Bond movie: a mess of legal entanglements. In a weird twist, though, Activision plans to release GoldenEye 007 the same week as…
Blood Stone (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: Daniel Craig also stars in fall’s other Bond game, following the case of a murdered researcher to a showdown with a terrorist group. The diamond-y opening credits hint that diamonds might play a role, too.
Potentially risky innovation: Innovation, innovation… let’s see… does Joss Stone count? ’Cause she’s in it. Let’s go with Joss Stone.
Safety factor: 10. There’s nothing to indicate this won’t be another polished, bland, adequate Bond game.
Majin And The Forsaken Kingdom (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Premise: After a dark plague consumes his kingdom, a crafty thief is among the few survivors, along with Majin, a dimwitted but amiable moss monster who’s been asleep for centuries. They decide to join forces, since there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise.
Potentially risky innovation: It’s a cooperative game without co-op—single-player only. That’s probably a good thing. In press demos, the game shows flashes of Ico and My Neighbor Totoro.
Safety factor: 5. Centering a game around a team of two characters with complementary skills isn’t the most original idea—see Enslaved in this same preview—but it’s a challenge to keep it interesting over the course of an entire playthrough. Majin is cute and charming, though, so players may give this game a little extra leeway.
Tron: Evolution (PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: A third-person brawler in which you fight back an encroaching super-virus while somehow making a neon-laced Spandex suit look good.
Potentially risky innovation: The flow of combat is based on parkour and the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. In practice, that just means that your character is sort of light on his feet, but it’s more fun to say “capoeira.”
Safety factor: 10. All that matters is whether there’s light-bike racing, and yes, there is.
Super Meat Boy (Mac, PC, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: Same old hero-rescues-princess tale. Same old hero who’s a skinless lump of raw meat; same old princess who’s a buxom cube of bandages.
Potentially risky innovation: Designed by indie auteurs Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Super Meat Boy will likely be one of the most difficult console games of 2010. McMillen explained his philosophy on game difficulty in an April blog post.
Safety factor: 7. A kitschy platformer is hardly the most daring indie game that the big publishers could have glommed onto, but that isn’t a knock on Super Meat Boy. Even a few minutes with the game crates a craving for more of its wall-bouncing, internal-fluid-slathering madness.
UNDATED FALL/HOLIDAY RELEASES
Epic Mickey (Wii)
Premise: Mickey Mouse is cast into a Cartoon Wasteland inhabited by all Disney’s forgotten, least profitable characters. He must save the Wasteland from the sinister Phantom Blot so he can get the hell out of Loserville and back to being a badass international icon.
Potentially risky innovation: Although he’s the hero, players can have Mickey make “naughty” choices—in other words, he can be kind of a dick. It’s an effort to recapture the mischievous qualities that Mickey lost as the character evolved in the 20th century.
Safety factor: 5. Disney has given designer Warren Spector free rein with their signature character and allowed him to populate the game with a bunch of unfamiliar faces, all of which is pretty gutsy. Given Spector’s past works—Thief, Deus Ex, and System Shock among them—he deserves the benefit of the doubt, even though early demos of Epic Mickey have the feel of a mediocre run-and-jump diversion with some errand quests thrown in.
Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)
Premise: Donkey Kong Country returns.
Potentially risky innovation: Because we’re living in a post-New Super Mario Bros. Wii era, Nintendo has shoehorned cooperative multiplayer into this single-player classic. Donkey Kong and nephew Diddy Kong will be available to play simultaneously; pray that the developers don’t dumb down the precision platforming of DKC tradition to make room for the new gimmick.
Safety factor: 10. Among the hardcore fans in attendance at Nintendo’s E3 press conference this year, nothing provoked louder howls of ecstasy than the revelation of DKCR. And why not? This may be an easy win for Nintendo, but the intricate levels and layered challenges of the Donkey Kong Country series have languished long enough. They deserve a revisit.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (iPhone, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Premise: The tale of a mutant hedgehog who can run very quickly, but why does he run? What is he running from? This game asks more questions than it answers.
Potentially risky innovation: Modeled on the side-scrolling Sonic classics of the Genesis era, Sonic 4 will be released in episodes, starting with Episode 1 this fall. That means it will take months for the entire adventure to trickle out.
Safety factor: 7. With rare exceptions, Sonic games have been on an embarrassing decline since the excellent Sonic CD. So even though Sega insists it’s gotten it right this time, the company has tarnished its flagship character with so many slapdash cash-in efforts that it’s hard not to be skeptical.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)
Premise: A dead man discovers he can enter a spirit realm where he performs “Ghost Tricks” to possess objects in the real world. He uses his ghostly mischief to save people from danger while attempting to find the mysterious cause of his death.
Potentially risky innovation: To solve the puzzles of Ghost Trick, players have to think across three overlapping planes of existence: the afterlife, the ghost world, and the living world. And the hero can also travel back in time, so this is heady stuff.
Safety factor: 1. When a game is this hard to explain, it rarely reaches store shelves—if the designer wasn’t Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi (who has a bit of clout to throw around), Ghost Trick probably wouldn’t have happened. Players will probably be glad it did. The game has an eerie, Out Of This World-esque charm, and the opening stage does a great job of distilling the multi-layered logic for players. It looks destined for cult-hit status.