High Strangeness borrows its name from the real-life term used by those who study UFO sightings to describe an inability to explain one's experience with an extraterrestrial. Fittingly, this bizarre title offers gameplay and visuals in both 16-bit and 8-bit styles, which the developers attempt to explain as a "12-bit adventure" which, on the surface, is quite unlike any other offering. Here we'll explore whether the journey of High Strangeness succeeds at blending two very different visual styles, as well as whether the game's mechanics do justice to adventure games of old.
We begin our adventure following the exploits of our protagonist Boyd, who is a seemingly normal young man just trying to find his runaway cat. While we'll spare the spoilers here, the story quickly unfolds and Boyd finds himself part of a much larger set of circumstances which involve the fate of not only his world, but those beyond as well. The narrative strikes a nice balance between telling an engaging story (if somewhat brief and derivative) and not taking itself too seriously. The dialogue is lighthearted, there are a number of references to Nintendo games, and the game does a more than decent job of keeping the player invested in what will happen next. Things do end rather abruptly, however, and seemingly just as the pace begins to pick up.
High Strangeness's gameplay is standard top-down adventure fare. B swings a flashlight (which really functions more as a sword here) and A uses one of a variety of weapons which can be swapped out in a menu accessed with the X button. Boyd has both a health and a mana meter, with the second functioning much like the stamina attribute from Souls games (attacks deplete mana which refills over time). Enemies drop "eyes" when defeated, which come in two varieties: red, which restore some health, and green, which fully replenish mana instantly. The latter type is greatly appreciated, because mana depletes frustratingly quickly near the beginning of the adventure. This fact makes early boss battles a chore, but luckily our hero instantly respawns when his HP is gone (though so do enemies). The combat can be satisfying if players exercise caution with regards to the mana meter, though the lack of much variety in enemy attack patterns makes most fights a matter of dashing in to score some hits, then retreating until mana refills.
Some of the weapons mapped to A are given to the player near the start of the game, and others are powers unlocked once certain "crystal skulls" are found along the course of the narrative. All of these can be upgraded two times at certain outposts using the eyes collected from enemies. Some weapons are more useful than others, and we actually found ourselves almost exclusively using one option; yet most of these do have practical combat uses, and the puzzle solving requires use of a wide range of item types. One omission that stuck out was the inability to switch between A weapons on the fly using either the shoulder or trigger buttons. This would have made crafting strategies to win boss fights much simpler and more gratifying, and it would eliminate the hassle of entering menus to solve puzzles quickly.
The main attraction here, however, is the ability to switch between 8 and 16-bit views at will. Pressing a shoulder button switches the world to a new perspective, which is essential to solving some puzzles and defeating certain enemies. Certain weapons function differently in each view, and some enemies can only be attacked in one or the other. The concept is novel and is put to decent enough use, but unfortunately it never really "shines." Often the mechanic is relegated to uninspired puzzle solutions ("switch to 8-bit to pass through these rocks"), though there are moments that stand out (for example, switching between 8 and 16-bit quickly to navigate a changing spiky floor). Overall the implementation is so-so, but it seems like an afterthought considering how the world and bosses aren't designed around it.
High Strangeness's visuals are nice to look at and the sprites have a very pleasant attention to detail. The 8-bit visuals are a delightful and faithful throwback, as are the environments and sprites in the more detailed 16-bit view. The enemy design could stand to feature a bit more variety, but the overall art direction is impressive and works alongside the bit-switching mechanic. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is shockingly good for a title as seemingly low-budget as this; all of the tunes in High Strangeness are memorable and contribute perfectly to the game's weird (in a good way) atmosphere. The whole audio-visual package comes together quite nicely and makes for a great experience from beginning to end (though that time may be a short one).
High Strangeness is a well constructed game which does a lot of things right with regards to its core mechanics and presentation. Unfortunately the implementation of its main hook is somewhat lackluster, and the game is really a bit short given the asking price. However, a great deal of love has gone into crafting this retro homage. Players who love good old fashioned adventure games won't be disappointed if they give High Strangeness a chance.