Capsized

When Capsized was released back in 2011, it's fair to say that it was pretty well received. A 2D mix of platforming, gun-toting, and gravity-gunning set against some truly beautiful art, there was a lot to like just looking at it, and even more once you got your hands on that piece of sweet gravity-flipping ordinance. While a controller could be used, using a mouse was a surefire way to an accurate victory, even against the ever stacking odds and those ridiculous priests.

One of the best parts about playing Capsized on PC was the accuracy afforded from using a mouse. The reticule roaming free allowed for a more efficient use of the limited ammo supplies, and an immediate, accurate response to the lightning quick enemies. Armed with an Xbox controller, hitting anything further then the one-inch radius your reticule hovers at becomes a terrible game of chance, a game that replaces assured aim with guess work. I can't count the number of times I missed charging red bugs, or spear chucking, alien tribesman by a matter of millimeters. For what it's worth, the majority of the tribesman stand still long enough to eventually make aiming trivial, but any type of moving opponent immediately sends you in reverse, hoping to run across some choke point so that they are literally forced into the way of your gun.

The aiming issue affects traversal as well. The gravity gun is a fantastic tool for both combat and exploration, but the controller replaces the fun I had swinging around levels with a master class in the Alfred Pennyworth's Guide to Life (“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again”). It's incredibly frustrating to not be able to do all the things I know are possible with such an awesome mechanic, and it feels like this chance to expand the audience of this game is being squandered.

I don't want to completely discount the physics gameplay, as it's one of the key parts of the game, and despite the sub-par aiming system, there is still some excitement to be had. Nearly everything in the environment that isn't part of the background is moveable, from rocks to torches, to small pieces of the shattered space crafts that brought your intrepid adventurers to this planet. Figuring out the right way to shift a pile to allow you access to a different part of the level, or discovering that you can wall jump up a cavern while holding on to a piece of debris for the first time; everything just adds to the sense adventure, exposing you slowly to the many different ways there are do all the things you need to do to get the hell off this blasted hunk of space rock.

The way Capsized lets you discover the gravity gun makes it feel more like a toy and less weapon. In fact, it's rather telling that the load screen tip that refers to it reminds you that you can use it offensively, to throw things like boulders at enemies. There's a great pop and weight to items as well, with small items smashing under the force of being thrown, while larger, more bulky objects sometimes can only be shifted, leaving your astronaut flailing and dancing about as he tries to move something that just doesn't want to go anywhere.

This highlights an apt comparison between your protagonist and the indigenous threats he has to deal with. There is a huge difference between their reactions to the damage you do, and your reactions to the damage done to you. With anything short of the plasma mortar, nothing you carry feels like it packs any punch. Your standard gun is practically useless for anything but clearing vines, but even the most basic enemies, these green flying alien mosquitoes, are able to knock you about and around. I get that things are stacked against you, that this is simply an extension of the game’s overall hardcore-ish philosophy, but in this instance, the punishment for getting hit feels like overkill. Add in the harsh red filter that covers the screen every time you take damage, and I was left thinking that I was always on the ropes, always one second from death, even when that was simply not the case.

This effect is initially just annoying, but after a while, it becomes infuriating. Up through chapter 6, playing on normal, I was able to brute force my way through the majority of encounters without many issues. It wasn't the way I wanted to play, but it kept ending up as the method that worked the best, especially when my imperfect aim would often send me tumbling down the screen, more often than not into the arms of some lurking baddie that I would have preferred to sneak up on. To it's credit, the game seems to anticipate things like this, as the environment is chock full of pickups, ranging from health to jet fuel, and some bonus lives are easy enough to come by in each level's secret areas. Chapter 6 marked a huge difficulty spike, one that might easily turn off many people playing this for the first time. Here, your objective is to kill three alien priests, priests whose abilities make life hell for the intrepid space explorer. They are hovering death knells, shooting homing seeds that explode, and employing a gravity well that pulls you in and holds any projectiles you shoot in a swirling cloud, be they rocks or lasers. These priests stack everything possible against you, and they are an easily identifiable moment where the lack of absolute precision in both movement and shooting puts you at a huge disadvantage.

Even with the all the holes in its gameplay, Capsized's environmental art remains bright and colorful, with a wonderful organic architecture that makes the levels really flow. Some of the later chapters, especially ones that play with light and dark, really beckon you to just dive into every crevice, searching for secrets masked by the textured rock face. There's a certain lack of diversity among the enemies you'll face, but I found the backgrounds an absolute blast visually, and scouring for secret openings when all the enemies were taken care of, without the pressure of needing to be accurate or on point, was engaging enough to never feel like wasted time. I wish I could carry over some of the goodies found between levels, as that would a sense of progression, but I enjoyed the tiny pop-up telling me I had found a secret.

Before I finish, I would also like to take a second to recognize Capsized's excellent soundtrack. It's beautiful and haunting, expressing both the alluring and dangerous nature of the alien landscape before you. Take a moment while you are busy not swinging, or riding rocks made lighter by your own gravity gun, to find a safe place to stand and just listen. It's worth it.

For a game built on such a solid mix of exploration and combat, to have both systems feel so broken is almost criminal, especially when a different, better version of the same game exists on another platform. Are any of the problems game breaking? That's kind of up to you to decide. I can tell you, having previously experienced the absolute magic that this game can be, this version is just not worth the time. Maybe for someone who hasn't played the PC version, if all they have is an Xbox, if that is their only choice to play it, maybe it's good enough. But if you have the choice, pick up the original on Steam.

Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!