Saturday, November 21

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity Review

Caution? I scoff at the notion. My desires can be obtained only with a lust for self-destruction. Only greed. Only a misplaced conception of self-preservation can earn what I seek. Only, a reckless disregard for gravity.

For never has there been a more apt title for a game than AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. Plummeting through the air, disembodied buildings hurtling by, I lurch forward in my chair, lift my feet, and smash the W key as hard as I am able. There is a gut-centric thrill derived from success, sometimes obtained perfectly, as planned, and other times because, upon you this day, some goddess of luck smiles warmly. Aaaaa!'s BASE jumping experience is an acute balance between those actions which have been precisely-memorized, gracefully-performed, and those substantially less coordinated reactions, twitch-perfect. 

By Dejobaan games, Aaaaa! harkens back to the glory days of the arcade genre. High-scores are the substance and succor of the lucrative gameplay, the puppet-master that dictates all emotion. The gameplay structure of Aaaaa! is ridiculously simple, and therefore utterly genius. Tossing yourself (recklessly, always recklessly) from platforms thousands of stories above sea-level, you must maneuver amongst abstractly floating buildings, beams, and turbine fans. Near-misses earns a “kiss” per structure; maintained near-contact earns “hugs.” But whereas hugs will earn only one-hundred points (or “teeth”) each, kisses warrant ten-times that value, incentivizing active, constant movement over sedentary lounging.

Glass scoring plates advance scoring options further, as do groups of fans and protesters, at whom flipping the proper finger gesture, with the correct mouse-click, earns a mouth full of three-thousand teeth. Bird-strikes, tagging government buildings, and stunts, like passing through small openings, reward additional teeth.

And so players swoop about, aiming for kisses, hugs, flip-its, bird-strikes, to obtain the highest score that their piddly wrist can provide. Upon completion of each level, teeth accumulate into an overall star ranking, of five. It is that coveted fifth star that drives replay, that drives all players to a reckless disregard of. . . I keep saying it because it's true.

But it is the level design, the levels in their immaculately specific construction that allow the scoring system to shine. Alas, the level design is the keystone to the arch of gameplay systems. And what a fine, marble keystone it is. Maybe the keystone has a nice engraving, too.

Much like reading poetry, playing each level is a problem-solving effort. Each level begins with a sense of curiosity at the new form, and oftentimes, wonderment. Though the levels may look random, I can assure you, they are quite specific. Levels are comprised of multiple paths, different combinations and arrangements of the various scoring elements. These paths are usually quite subtle and are discerned not immediately, but through multiple replays.

But finding what you believe to be the correct path does not guarantee success. Improvisation, swift reactions, and multi-tasking play a huge part in Aaaaa!. “Pansies!” you'll decry. “That way's for pansies!” It's everything gained or nothing at all. You'll align yourself the superior way, dive faster, swoop a perfect arc on the path of domination. But when you're in the zone, I say with my utmost sincerity, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve. Tag a building. Flip a crowd. Dodge Left. Tag a building. Decisions made in moments of moments, fraught with abandon. Passing within inches above a looming ceiling, a kiss hard-fought, rewards a feeling of euphoria and relief. But, surprisingly, failure yields not the opposite emotion, frustration, but a desire to try again, to complete the path least traveled, hardest won, and best rewarded.

A balance of risk versus reward is a core emotion of Aaaaa!. You see a high-scoring path, and though you aren't entirely sure you can make the swoop in time, you swoop regardless. You need to. Risk is not simply a negative but a conduit of reward. It is the risky stunt that garners the sense of accomplishment, as well as the biggest points. And the risk is worth it, every time.

High-scores often count to tens of thousands, and being so broad, leave level scores wide open for improvement. Aaaaa! supports global leaderboards on Steam and are an enjoyable opportunity for comparison against the masses (I place within the top thirty on several levels. Not bad.). 

Aaaaa! is about harnessing whatever control can be found in a reckless free-fall towards certain doom. Sometimes, you will silence the world around you, not even focusing on the screen, but you will become the free-fall. And from much memorization and well-practiced finger twitching, you will dodge nearly, hug long, kiss every obstacle perfectly, thread the needle, and hit a bird; it is in these moments that the game reveals it's beauty.

Images from IGN. (I couldn't get my image-capturing software to work properly).

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