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a game like a poem: REDDER (a review/love letter)

Disclaimer: I had nothing to do with the creation of this game, despite how it might seem like I am in love with it and would perhaps like to marry it.

A white ship is flying through space. Above it are three rows of glimmering crystals. A sound is heard (is it related?) and the crystals begin to disappear. As the crystals disappear the ships slows down, until there are no crystals left. The ship is no longer moving. It hovers for a moment before descending upon a big, red planet and the word REDDER, glowing like the crystals before it, appears.

Without a word (well, besides the word REDDER) the ship lands and a small astronaut steps out.

Immediately we have figured out the plot: the ship has run out of fuel and our avatar, this astronaut, is marooned on the big, red planet. Or maybe our avatar meant to land here. The beauty of the game is that we don't need to know why we are here because, whatever the reason, our goal is the same.

Above the ship are the three empty rows where the crystals once were. The game has alredy shown us that these rows can be full (full of marvelous rainbow crystals!), but currently they are empty. Try to interact with the ship and you'll notice you can't. Hmmmm. I wonder why the game is reminding us we have no crystals?

As a player you are now given absolute freedom. Hit all the buttons on the keyboard and until you find one that actually does something (does anyone else do this?). Maybe you'll find the button that pulls up the map. Maybe you won't be able to tell its a map yet. Maybe you'll discover that the left and right arrows move you (you'll never believe this) left and right.

Now is the point where I leave you to go play REDDER yourself so we can have a meaningful conversation about it when you are finished. Is that okay?

Before you click the following link you must PROMISE to follow these three, simple instructions:

#1 You are to read absolutely nothing else about REDDER. Even on the actual page for the game. DO NOT scroll down and read the instructions or the reviews. Trust me.

#2 You must turn up the sound to a reasonable level. Trust me.

#3 Give yourself the time and space to actually get into the game. This article isn't going anywhere, so make sure you are prepared to give the game a chance. Trust me.

Okay, now that we are clear on the ground rules, here is the link to actually play the game yourself.


I'll just wait here until you are finished.

*waiting noise*

Ah! You're finished? That was quick. Tell me, did you actually finish? If not I suggest you do because this is your last chance before spoilers.

Seriously, spoilers ahead.

*clears throat*

So, where was I? Ah, yes. Left and right.

Your little space man stands still until you figure out he can move left and/or right. There is no tutorial. From that discovery, any input of left and/or right will eventually lead you to an obstacle that is impassable without the discovery of either the up key or the space bar, aka the jump button. Congratulations, you've figured out the two tools necessary to complete REDDER!

The subsequent flow of the game goes something like this:

explore >find crystal >figure out how to get crystal >get crystal >repeat

Your first few crystals will come easy. You'll notice a bizarre phenomenon where, upon picking up a crystal, there will be an obnoxiously loud sound and the music will reset. "Whatevs" you might think to yourself. Eventually you will either make your way back to the space ship or discover (hmm, isn't that a big M at the bottom of the screen?) that pressing M pulls up the map. Both re-introduce the three empty rows of crystals, except now the crystals you picked up are filling the previously empty slots. If it wasn't clear before, the game has revealed your ultimate goal: fill up those three rows of crystals.

There are three things I would now like to discuss.

Dying, in REDDER
Undoubtedly your tiny little avatar will meet his demise while trying to pursue these magnificent glowing space crystals. Even if you avoid it at first, like any tiny astronaut would, it is bound to happen sooner or later. Maybe you thought that robot was trying to hug you (he does look awfully similar to Wall-E), or maybe you touched one of the many awkwardly placed electrical currents. Whatever the cause, your astronaut, 100% unrealistically, will explode into a hundred white pixels and re-appear at your last checkpoint.


The neat thing about REDDER is that they never explain what it is that happens when you die. Sure you just saw yourself explode, but it could be explained any number of ways. Is it just a death animation? I thought that at first, that I had infinite lives and it was just a cute, animated way to reset my avatar. But then, as I started to progress further and further beneath the planet's surface, dying repeatedly, several times in a row, it was like my character was having visions of himself dying. Every time he missed a jump, or took a wrong turn into a laser, it wasn't him, but his imagination (or maybe damaged psyche) showing him what it would be like to die. Did he want to die? To end it? Or did something else want him to die?

The fact that, no matter how many times you explode, you simply cannot lose goes from being comforting to strangely disturbing as well. Where a game over screen might give you a break from the task at hand, your avatar has no escaping his goal. Were the ruins on the planet designed to trap you with it? Have you already died and your spirit persists, tirelessly gathering the crystals you could not get? Maybe the game itself doesn't want to let you leave.

The Crystals
In a lot of games we are trained to collect whatever shit we just see lying around. Usually this is without consequence, and we are often rewarded for amassing hordes of coins, gems or whatever. I love that REDDER plays off of this, our innate urge to find and collect the crystals we see lying around, and then slowly punishes us for doing so. I forget at what point you start to notice it, but certain graphical glitches begin to pop up the more crystals you collect. Later the music starts skipping. Its all pretty trippy the first couple times it happens. Judging by the reviews on Newgrounds a lot of people didn't realize this was even intentional.

Of course the crystals are a necessary evil. Be it for survival, or greed, your character is not leaving the planet until he has the crystals he came for. However the more you collect, the more glitches appear, the more you wonder about the nature of your task. Instead of mindlessly collecting them you are forced to reflect. Is it worth it? As the game gets more and more glitched it becomes harder to focus, harder to make jumps and distinguish tiles from one another. It's a lot easier to just give in and give up. Do the crystals not want to be collected? How many crystals do you really need? Who designed the planet to keep you from the crystals and why? Are you just going crazy, watching yourself die as you obsess over rainbow crystals?

Mario certainly never made me question the nature of the coins (or where they came from).

And what am I to make of the ending?
As the world around you warps, sonically and visually, and it becomes harder to make your way around the planet, I wondered if part of me wasn't lost forever to the influence of the crystals/planet. Would the spaceman ever recover? Does the game not want me to finish it, desperately falling apart as it becomes obsolete. Like I mentioned before, there are so many different ways to analyze this game and each one holds up well on its own.

If you obtain the true ending, where you get greedy and obtain the three last crystals, something bizarre happens. Everything devolves into simplified, one color blocks. As you break the final mystery of the planet there is suddenly nothing left to see and everything goes into an Atari-like pixel zen. While you might read this as the character finally losing it for good, it also functions as a big metaphorical ending for the game: with nothing left to find, the colors, art, music and level design become obsolete. Your last trek to your ship is not only the end of the game, but the death of the game. Once you are finished (and no longer playing it) do its music and art even matter? The game seems to acknowledge that there really is nothing left to see by literally taking it all away.

For me, REDDER is an incredible experience that, through its own simplicity, offers up various levels of narration and self-reference, unfolding more like a poem than a traditional video game. By calling into question the role of the player, the avatar and the world around them, the game is able to leave a lasting impression (on me at least), moreso than a more traditional game that demands to be interpreted only one way.
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About sandorasboxone of us since 7:19 PM on 01.08.2010

My first game ever was Adventure on the Atari.
My favorite game of all time is Ape Escape for the PSX.
My most played game would have to be Lumines for the PSP, a game that has me seeing the colorful exploding blocks even when I'm not playing.

As an artist I value brilliant design over brilliant gameplay, though I certainly value both.

A few of my favorite games (in no particular order):

Noby Noby Boy
Silent Hill
Dead Rising
Gitaroo Man
Final Fantasy IX
Demon's Souls
Super Mario RPG: Lot7S
Legend of Zelda: Seasons + Ages
PSN ID:pantsmith


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