reviews\ Jul 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Review: Capsized is a worthy ride held back by a few malfunctions


I’m tempted to go easy on Capsized.

It doesn’t help that the game reminds me of Ecco the Dolphin, an unsung gem of the Sega Genesis era and one of the first, true atmospheric games. Capsized has atmosphere in spades, pitting players as a stout astronaut marooned on a dangerous alien world. The hand-drawn art is beautiful in its minute details, the spacey music sets the mood, and the enemies are strange and otherworldly. The story is sparse, told only through a few panels of art in the loading screen. It’s enough to intrigue, but you get the feeling that any further exposition would only ruin the atmosphere.

Capsized is also oddly reminiscent of 90s era first-person shooters. It may be closer in control scheme to a twin-stick 2D shooter, but the relentless pace, pile of weaponry, and aggressive enemies evoke Duke Nukem 3D and Half-Life more than Geometry Wars. There’s a certain imprecision to Capsized that it shares with those games, as players will juke and dodge to their hearts content but the swarms of enemies will always leave them rushing to the nearest health kits.

Capsized exploration gameplay

I keep coming back to that Ecco the Dolphin comparison though, because Capsized captures a similar feeling of exploration and puzzle solving. Whether you’re zipping around in a jetpack or swinging from a grappling hook in low gravity, the lush world is not unlike Ecco’s vast ocean depths. Even the gameplay is reminiscent, asking players to poke and prod at the environment, solving challenges in ways you wouldn’t expect a modern game to ask of you.

Capsized shares good company in its apparent influences, and it’s an impressive effort coming from Alientrap, a team of two game designers. I’m tempted to go easy on it because it does so much right in a small package, but it also makes a few big mistakes along the way.

For one, the game can be quite glitchy. Part of the reason for this is because Capsized tracks a ton of physics objects like large rocks, energy balls, and the player character himself, courtesy of a grappling hook. The interactions between all of these things make it easy to wedge yourself in some nasty spots. A powerful energy blast makes it possible to knock big rocks out of the way if they become stuck in the environment, but there are too many chances for things to go wrong. What’s worse is that although the game gives you the tools for these emergency situations and admits in the tooltips that you can get stuck, it doesn’t offer a way to suicide or revert to a checkpoint. When you’ve got extra lives to burn and restarting a level means 15-20 minutes of progress lost, it can be a huge bummer.

Capsized physics puzzle

Glitches are more a symptom of a bigger, more fundamental issue with Capsized, though. The game is reliant on its physics engine to dictate the gameplay. For example, you have a grappling hook, but swinging with it isn’t much fun because they pretty much gave you a tether and let the physics engine handle the rest. The result is an unreliable, unpredictable tool that’s as likely to get you across a gap as it is to catapult you into a wall and kill you instantly.

This becomes a more serious issue as you hit the later levels. Reaching the top of a series of platforms only to get thrown through the air by some overzealous enemies, miss every grapple point on the way down, and hit the bottom after five minutes of carefully grappling your way up can be a nightmare. The unpredictable nature of everything from your own tools to the environment and the enemies themselves lead to a ton of cheap deaths.

The last few levels took me longer to complete than the entire game up to that point, and a lot of it was simply running into one too many bad circumstances and having to restart. At the same time, the more I played the more I learned to work around the quirks and methodically make my way to victory. It isn’t always well-designed, but Capsized does still manage some extremely rewarding moments before its brief adventure ends.

Capsized atmospheric visuals

Once the 3-5 hour story is over, completionists can return to any level and go for a better score, or try out one of four extra game types. You’ll have access to a deathmatch mode against bots, wave-based survival, a grappling hook time attack, and a battle mode where the player must fight using physics objects. Each of these modes have their charms, but they’re half-baked. After all, a bot match is only the gateway to a full-fledged multiplayer mode, and it's clear that Capsized's gameplay could have been great with a little online competition.

Unfortunately, the only real multiplayer to be found is an appropriately tucked-away co-op mode. You’ll have to find a toggle in the settings to activate it, rather than simply pressing start on another controller, but it’s probably for the best. When the action in Capsized picks up, which it does often, the co-op mode becomes nearly unplayable. Player 2 is teleported to player 1 when they venture off-screen, and it’s impossible to stick together when you’re platforming around huge environments or getting tossed around by the game’s crazy physics.

Despite co-op, extra gametypes, and leaderboard support, it’s still the core 13 levels that justify the price of admission. And yeah, despite the glitches and some sloppy gameplay, I still think some people are going to love this game.

If you enjoy intense 2D action and atmospheric sci-fi like me, then Capsized is a hard game to hate. Much like Ecco, or many 16-bit era games for that matter, the challenges Capsized throws at you don’t always feel justified or fair, but overcoming them is satisfying all the same. Capsized feels like a game from that time. It’s harsh by today’s standards and it has some cumbersome mechanics, but it was built with love, and that goes a long way.

[Reviewed on XBLA]

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About The Author
Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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