the artistry and psychology of gaming

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Seedling

Seedling

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

This week, we set out on a quest for adventure, discovery, and photomorphogenesis!

Seedling

Ever wonder why the Great Deku Tree’s so great?

Genre: Action Adventure
Link to Game: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/598977
Game Info: Released on Newgrounds in July 2012 by Connor Ullman with music by Rekcahdam, winning the daily feature on July 12th, and taking 3rd place for the week.

“Epic flash games” are a breed hard to come by. While most flash games are quick diversions where you can sink a few minutes of enjoyment into, longer and more meaningful experiences are risky ventures, as many can become too bogged down in details, or too complex for the average flash user to bother putting up with for extended periods of time. For this reason, games with level grinding, exploration, lengthy cutscenes, or copious amounts of backtracking are more or less avoided, better suited for regular downloads or builds using other programming software. For browser games programmed in flash, a game needs to actively maintain the player’s interest in their task at hand. This is perhaps what I find most impressive about Connor Ullman’s Seedling, as not only does he deliver a well thought out Zelda-inspired top down action adventure (I believe I have Alice Kojiro’s attention now), but does so in a way that also incorporates modern thinking that streamlines progression without sacrificing the player-guided intuition the series is known for.

Mechanically, Seedling comes off as a cross between A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. The overworld and levels of Seedling are not single panels but scrolling areas, similar to Link’s SNES adventure, while your character maintains a two-button inventory where items (including your sword) can be assigned to either, like in Link’s Gameboy outing. As in the Zelda series, your character will journey across the area, defeating bosses and acquiring items that will lead to newer areas to explore and repeat the process. The game does not feature any map whatsoever, which was an exclusion that I greatly enjoyed, as it forces the player to understand their immediate boundaries and test out their available inventory. Is that tree blocking your path? Maybe you can burn it down! Are you cut off by a river? Maybe you can eventually swim through it! These mobility puzzles are coupled with a variety of enemies with unique movement patterns and attacks that help balance the exploration and puzzle solving with an appropriate level of action. With 8 dungeon areas and 7 bosses, your character is able to develop a versatile moveset that does the Zelda series proud without being burdened with so many pitfalls the series might otherwise experience when moved into the browser space.

Instead of level starts, moving through cleared rooms, and backtracking, your character quicksaves at the entrance of each panel. With his minimal amount of health (which can also be upgraded akin to heartpieces, although not as extensive) he is required to endure the challenges of that panel. If his health is depleted, the panel essentially resets letting him try again right there. Enemies (excluding bosses) also reappear each time the panel reloads, so you can’t simply charge through losing as many lives as possible just to kill everything. This proves ideal for a browser game as your forward progress is rarely halted for more than a few actions, and yet it still allows you to complete the challenges with a pre-defined set of obstacles without cheating. The game’s levels are also varied enough in style and objectives that you never feel like your progress is becoming a retread of gameplay ideas, and the available overworld is never so large as to be unable to find where you next will need to go. This is exactly how action adventures should be done in flash.

This statue of Sardol was erected as a monument to his treachery

The game’s story is both minimalistic (again a benefit to flash), never being more than a few sentences relayed at a time, yet at the same time, it carries a well crafted meaning that the player grows to understand as they progress. The story can be ignored in favor of the game’s action (in fact, the conversations in which you hear more about the surrounding world and your goals are nearly entirely optional), however in absorbing the story, one can really start to appreciate what Ullman’s vision for the quest has been. You are a being created by wind, and new to the world around you. Soon after finding your sword, you may meet the oracle, who will send you on your journey (although you can just go off on your own). In short, the oracle’s tree is dying, and he needs you to bring him a seed at all costs. You also learn of the “creatures of the relic,” who are basically the game’s bosses. If this all sounds rather standard for an action adventure, that’s because it is, and that’s what the game expects you to think.

As you are completing your quest, you may notice a few things that seem just a bit off. It may be when reading a statue or two in the background on the evil Sardol. It may be wondering about that strange creature found in the background of a few panels. It may be when a witch hands you a “Dark Sword” that doubles your attack power. Without trying to spoil anything, Seedling is a game that competently toys with the player’s sense of morality, where understanding what you need to do on screen, may not necessarily be what’s best from all. Your character is just as new to this world as you are, after all, and is not bound by an understanding of the land’s historical context. It is within this concept that the game leaves the Zelda series, and aligns more closely with another action adventure game, Crusader of Centy for the Sega Genesis (OK, now I really should have Alice Kojiro’s attention).

Seedling features two endings; a good and bad version. The good version is achieved by fully exploring the world to find each of the treasure chests scattered about. Interestingly enough, I find the bad ending to be more satisfying, however they are both worth experiencing; fortunately the game saves wherever you leave off, and allows you to complete both in either order without restarting the game entirely.

Hmm, Sardol looks nothing like his statue.

The game is not without a few pitfalls of its own; the lack of a map may put off some, although I personally enjoyed the freedom of finding things on my own. One area of the game becomes inaccessible after you beat it, and while I’m fairly sure every treasure chest inside is a required find while you make your way through, sealing the area off does little to satisfy players running through every possible “what if?” scenario for where their last one can be found. The game’s room patterns can also become confusing in certain areas, leading many to turn back at a walkable floor space thinking it to be a wall.

As much as the game’s graphics and gameplay inspirations may seem to evoke that sense of nostalgia for games gone by, Seedling never relies on these senses, and well embraces the old with the modern trappings of current-gen game design. Seedling may just surprise you with its engrossing world and entertaining gameplay, and is worth a shot for any and all gamers who enjoy exercising their trigger fingers as well as their critical thinking skills. Two to three hours of retention is a lot to ask of a browser game, yet Seedling pulls this off effortlessly to the point where I’d be happy for even more.

One Comment

  1. I reawaken from a long writing coma to find this!? With a Crusader of Centy reference, to boot? My insterest is certainly piqued; Grandia may have to wait just a little while longer…

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