Platforms: XBLA (PC version released in 2011)
Developer: Alientrap Software
There's nothing quite like the thrill of exploring a truly alien world, but all too often, videogame protagonists have little choice in the matter. Capsized is no exception, casting players as an anonymous astronaut whose ship has crash-landed on a dangerous and hostile planet. In a sidescrolling sprite-based platformer. If you're already feeling pangs of deja vu, that's because countless games have walked this road before over the last few decades.
It's an old-school concept, but Capsized stands proud thanks to some new-school ideas and seriously cool toys.
Capsized presents its story in a disarmingly simple way, telling its tale through a small number of expressive comic book panels. Without text or dialogue, players are free to decipher the lone astronaut's plight to rescue his comrades and escape the deadly planet. It's an effective way of making you think about the narrative, use your imagination and better read yourself into the protagonist as opposed to bogging down in unnecessary exposition.
The minimalist storyline puts the focus on gameplay front and centre, so I'm delighted to report that Capsized doesn't disappoint. Throughout a dozen lengthy levels, you'll delve through some subterraneaon mazes, do battle against a host of disgusting alien critters and gradually rescue some survivors from the crashed vessel. Environmental puzzles and exploration play a key role, with experimentation leading to hidden supply caches and new ways to manipulate scenery objects to progress. Though much more linear than the likes of Metroid and Shadow Complex, there's plenty of room to breathe and plot your own course. Brilliantly, the XBLA version contains a few extra stages that offer a stern challenge to even experienced players.
We've seen this formula before, but Capsized manages to stand out from the crowd by offering a slew of exceptionally fun traversal tools. Forget your traditional weaponry, because you'll spend most of your time swinging around environments with the Gravity Hook (a high-tech version of Worms' Ninja Rope) or taking to the skies in a jetpack. Though easy to use and understand, each device packs a surprising amount of nuance and depth, whether you're playing about with the scenery or catapulting enormous distances with a gravity boost. Environmental puzzles gradually increase in complexity, as the levels quickly become increasingly more labyrinthine. Simply getting around is an utter joy, as is using your abilities to secure a selection of secrets.
Unique art and sound design also help to differentiate Capsized from the slew of boutique platformers out there. The visuals retain a hand-drawn vibe, halfway between charmingly crude and finely detailed, with plenty of profoundly alien design elements making the mysterious planet feel unpredictable and dangerous. The ambient soundtrack also conspires to create a sense of discovery and tension, making for a pleasingly attractive experience even on a large HDTV.
Capsized can be rather frustrating at times, though. It's partly down to the lack of a minimap and punitive checkpoint respawn placement, but most potential aggravation stems from translation from mouse and keyboard to console controller. Thumbstick aiming lacks precision, which is tremendously aggravating when attempting to pull off pinpoint gravity hook manoeuvres and potentially fatal in combat. Even the addition of an inconsistent auto-aim feature does little to ease these pains, especially when you desperately need to take down a priority target.
This is especially annoying when you're forced to fight off swarms of incredibly fast-moving creatures in cramped quarters, leading to some practically unavoidable deaths when nightmarishly fast hordes of foes rush your position and utterly overwhelm your ability to aim properly or extricate yourself in time. Worse still, your astronaut will often hang up on scenery at the most inopportune moments.
Ultimately, though, Capsized is only 800 Microsoft Points (until the end of the month, at which point God help us all), and a fun and worthwhile summer investment.
- Fun traversal gadgets make exploration a joy
- Eyecatching art direction
- Three extra levels and online/local co-op
- Controller inputs lack PC precision
- Tight-quarters combat can be infuriating
- Frequent scenery hang-ups
The Short Version: Capsized's enjoyable challenge and unique art direction outweigh the inconsistent transition from mouse to controller. It's high time you explored this fun if occasionally frustrating platformer, whether you buy on XBLA or PC.