Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Climb Higher


I spent an hour this afternoon playing two free games I found on Steam. I say "playing". I might be stretching a point.

The first was Cloud Climber. It's from Two Star Games and it only appeared on Steam a couple of weeks ago. Someone must have been waiting for it. It already has a "Very Positive" rating from nearly fourteen hundred reviews.

That could be because the developer's previous game, My Friend Is A Raven, has been available on for a while, long enough to pick up some (Over-enthusiastic) reviews and a whole bunch of video walkthroughs on YouTube


I played MFIAR (as no-one is calling it) after I finished Cloud Climber. It's one of those multiple-ending games that seem to have become something of a talking point around here of late. 

It could almost be an exemplar of the genre. Its endings are so central to the design they aren't only named, they're numbered. My first playthrough took me less than ten minutes and I got the bad ending. I know it was the bad ending because... well, see for yourself.


It seemed quite plain to me that the idea here must be to see all the endings. When it's made as clear as that my issues with the general concept don't seem entirely relevant. Also, it was pretty obvious how to get to see the rest.

Well, two of them. I skipped through the same steps with slight variations a couple more times for those. It only took two or three minutes each time. It would have been rude not to.

I couldn't figure out the one ending I was missing, though. I thought I'd rung all the changes. There are only a very few ways to twist a tale with so few moving parts. In the end it turned out I needed to do less, not more. That fixed it. But I had to watch YouTube. I didn't figure it out on my own.


So that's My Friend Is A Raven. I realize I haven't actually described it in any way but why bother? It's free and it takes ten minutes to play. If you're interested, go try it. It's no life-changing experience but it's worth ten minutes of anyone's time.

More unusual and possibly more intriguing is the game that led me there, Cloud Climber. This one really does push the boundaries of what could reasonably be called a game. The description on Steam calls it "a short narrative adventure game". Well, it is short. I won't argue with that.


Gameplay consists of climbing ladders and opening doors. A couple of times there are keys to pick up because a couple of doors are locked, even though there seems no reason they should be. There's one interaction with a fixed object and twice you need to collect some planks and repair something but again doing so doesn't seem to serve any function whatever except to justify calling it a game.

As for narrative, there are diary pages lying around and the protagonist soliloquizes now and again in voiceover. The sum total of the storyline could be jotted down in a paragraph. A short paragraph.


The minimalistic approach is highly effective. It doesn't really need anything more. The whole thing isn't so much a game as a mood piece, a tone poem even. 

It takes place atop a series of wooden towers high enough to reach the clouds, which is precisely what they were built to do. Visually, it's breathtaking. Literally, I imagine, if you have any kind of a fear of heights.

I'm not sure whether it's possible to fall off the stairs or platforms. One of the diary pages does allude to the possibilty. I was very careful not to find out. It certainly feels like it could happen at any moment, though.


The soundscape is understated and evocative. There's a disorienting sense of isolation and loneliness. The ending (there's only the one this time... I think) comes laced with bittersweet confusion. The developer (it's just one person, Gavin Eisenbeisz) calls Cloud Climber "a really relaxing experience" and I guess it is, at that. Provided you don't think about it too hard. Or have acrophobia. Or abandonment issues.

Once again I won't go on at length. Cloud Climber took me about fifteen minutes and the screenshots pretty much tell the story. It's free, go play it.

There's a third project in the works from the same studio, something that does indeed look much more like a game. It's called My Beautiful Paper Smile and it's already available in Early Access. It's a cheery little fable about "a world where children are raised in large facilities, and taught to smile at all times. If the kids show any emotion other than happiness they are deemed imperfect, and are heavily punished". Just the kind of thing we all need right now, I'm sure you'll agree.

Might give that one a miss, at least for the time being. Not sure I'm really quite in the mood.

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