Continue?9876543210 (Linux, Mac, PC[reviewed])
Developer: Jason Oda
Publisher: Jason Oda
Release Date: January 3, 2014
Continue?9876543210 (how great is that name) is about a videogame character on the verge of deletion. He has died, and thus, the code no longer needs him. However, he’s not quite ready to just…go away forever. Just as many of us fear leaving this Earth, this "PLAYERSPRITE" doesn't want to go out without a fight.
The game’s mechanics seem confusing at first, but after some experience everything becomes pretty clear. The game is broken up into six different levels in a randomized order. The main component of each level is to speak to everyone, and I mean everyone. Many NPCs have either valuable information or open one of the many doors around the level. While inside a door, there may be a password to say, a shrine to dedicate an object to, a trap, or another NPC to help you on your journey.
Answering a password or donating the correct item to a shrine rewards the PLAYERSPRITE with either Prayer or Lightning, which you get to choose. Lightning will call down some, well, lightning on the level’s exits, which are blocked. Lightning strikes randomly and can even hit areas that are no longer blocked. Prayer will erect a shelter, which is needed in order to continue progressing throughout the game.
Each level is cut into chunks. It could be 2 two-minute chunks or 4 forty-five second chunks. As the PLAYERSPRITE runs around the level, time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking. Until the last chunk, once the timer reaches zero, a battle begins (more on those later). It is imperative that the sprite escape through one of the exits, opened by gathering Lightning, before time is up. After every two levels, the PLAYERSPRITE enters the level where all of the shelters were erected in order to protect itself from the storm, which is a garbage-cleaning program that will delete anything it can. If there are enough shelters, the game progresses.
The “battles” are combat sections that can also open doors in a level or cause lightning to strike. They’re also terrible. The game’s movement and attack mechanics are just plain bad. There are movement keys and attacks, and occasionally a jump. Jumping goes sky high, movement feels slow, and attacking is, for lack of a better word, janky. The battles have various arenas and objectives, including a sidescrolling level about killing enemies, a dungeon map about killing enemies, a big flat open space about killing enemies, and a space invader-like map. About killing enemies.
If the PLAYERSPRITE loses too much HP (dies again?), all is not lost. It is possible to spend FOO (a currency), a car part (acquired through various NPCs at the cost of FOO), or some shelters to survive. Spending shelters will certainly make the game harder in the long run, due to a lack of progress, however. All of this information is sort of explained in the text tutorial the game offers, but even after reading it I only understood how things worked after getting some experience under my belt.
Even moving around the levels can be a frustrating experience thanks to the controls. After some time, enemies will spawn on the level and need to be attacked or evaded. However attacking happens in the direction the PLAYERSPRITE is facing, and since there are only four directional keys on a keyboard, good luck attacking in a diagonal. It’s just…so awkward to attack. Another issue crops up when moving down in elevation, since there’s a bit of floatiness to the game. Going down a ramp has the sprite airborne for a small period of time, which then allows them to fly off of edges and a very acute angle rather than a steep one that normally comes with gravity. This has caused me to fly off into areas I didn't want to be in and even caused me to fail a level.
The other failure I had came from a game-halting bug. During one of the “battles,” I was very close to losing all of my health as I tried to perform maneuvers more elaborate than the game’s controls allow, but before that could happen, I manage to strike the final blow on the enemy at hand. In doing so, both the enemy and the PLAYERSPRITE completely disappeared, leaving nothing but some collectibles behind. No enemy, no sprite to control. The game said I still had one health left, but I was gone. I also couldn't access the pause menu in order to quit the game, but got it to come up by alt-tabbing out and coming back in.
Continue?9876543210 is all about the journey, though. A journey about death, confusion, and friends. It’s a journey that may mean a lot to some, and may completely fall flat to others. Nothing is very obvious while playing, which is a good thing since it forces the player to step back and actually think about what happened. What was repeated? What were the themes? Is there a message? If so, what was it? There is a lot to think about after playing Continue?9876543210 and that is a very good thing. A very good thing in a pile of very bad things.
The visuals certainly make it feel very "videogame-y," considering the harsh square pixel art style given to everything. The colors are all a bit faded, which ties in with the theme well enough and helps convey the sense of "weird purgatory." The music is also spot-on, with the exception of one track early on that doesn't loop quite perfectly. The font, however, is a chore to read and can be a strain on the eyes.
Continue?9876543210 truly does feel like a personal and emotional experience: someone else’s personal and emotional experience. It did not connect to me the way it was seemingly intended to. Good “experience” games either have super simple controls so that the player never has to think about them, or the controls and mechanics tie directly into the game’s central themes. Continue?9876543210 does neither.
It did propose some thought-provoking questions about mortality, but I was too busy being frustrated at the controls to give any of it a second thought while playing.
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