"Indescribable... Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!"
When I saw the first screenshots and the trailer of Gish I
knew I had to obtain some more information on the title. When I tested
the demo I knew I had to get the full game. A platform game developed
by the makers of my beloved Bridge Builder series? I guess the
purpose of the intro part often is to create some artificial tension by
bringing up a question or placing fake hints that some title might have
turned out to be a turd in order to get the reader interested. Sorry to
spoil it already, but to me Gish fully delivered what the trial
promised. I had no clue though that by the time I was ready to pin down
a review no less than 50% of the GWJ staff will own the game. So, read
on as Pyro and ColdForged join me on my indie venture for once and drop
their thoughts on the game as well.
ColdForged: What can I say? I'm a sucker for quality games
regardless their origination, and I've always had a soft spot for
shareware developers. In my Mac days, I had no fewer than 5 licenses
for games from noted shareware developer Ambrosia Software. So, like
Spunior, after watching the fascinating videos and trying out the demo,
I figured that perhaps Chronic Logic had created something interesting
that was worthy of my monetary support.
Spunior: Alright, I think this is the moment where Pyro should come up with a huge BUT or else we're going to lose the readers after no less than 2 paragraphs! Pyro? Pyro?!
Pyroman[FO]: Oh sure, make me the bad guy! It's not like I enjoy
it or anything. Well, okay maybe I do, especially the laugh. So I'll
begin by saying I have no allegiance to indie games whatsoever.
Artistically I'm not going to give them points because they did it
cheaply or without selling themselves to a publisher. Moreover, when it
comes to my hard earned cash, they all compete on the same table as far
as I'm concerned. Gish not only stepped up to the table, but did a
little dance and let me wave some dollar bills suggestively.
play a little ball of tar whose girlfriend has just been taken by a
mysterious stranger of mystery into the sewer. Fortunately that's all
the story you need, as the few panels in the intro and the final boss
are all you'll see of it. As a ball of tar, you don't shoot guns or
have powerups. You can become heavy, sticky, slippery and sorta jump.
That's all you have and they use the hell out of it. What makes this
all possible is the spectacular physics engine, which they use to full
effect in the puzzles and enemies. Gish is one of the few "modern"
platformers I can think of. What I mean is that it actually uses modern
technology to enhance the gameplay, instead of making prettier versions
of NES games.
Spunior: Absolutely. Screenshots and movies cannot communicate
the feel of the controls. They're terrific. Many aspects are intuitive
and yet there are moves you'll have to practice to manage them. Not
that I ever controlled a blob of tar in my life time (and that's kind
of unlikely to happen in the future), but everything just seems
'right'. And it certainly is one if not the major element that makes Gish so entertaining.
It's really hard to describe, but the more you play the more details
you discover. For instance, you can 'sling' Gish over corner pieces.
It's a very efficient method to master parts like a cascade of
pendulums and certainly faster than stopping at each of them and
jumping to the next.
ColdForged: I'll be the first to admit that I am not innately
able to proficiently control a 12 pound ball of tar. I was the guy that
feebly hopped barely a hair's breadth off the ground during the
tutorial and who generally stuck when I wanted to roll and rolled when
I really should have stuck. But it eventually becomes second nature to
get that bounce going as you're being approached by a giant baddie.
That said, the level of control and interaction with the environment is
truly phenomenal. What's stuck out to me so far is the robust physics
engine and the fact that for a nominal platformer , it's unexpected.
For instance, in classic Mario games, you generally didn't have to worry about your effect on the platforms you were jumping on. In Gish,
some dynamic platforms are entirely subject to gravity so you'd best
land in the center and not "rock the boat" lest you send it tumbling
into the rest of the platforms, knocking them over like so many
dominoes and completely demolish your path through the level. It's just
awesome to see in action.
Pyroman[FO]: Which brings us right around to problem number one.
There are way too many points in this game where if you don't do what
you're supposed to, you die. By 'way too many' I mean they exist. If
you slide through a passage into the middle of two big baddies, if you
don't immediately hop on one of them to crush them, you get stuck and
die. If you don't slide from swinging platform 5 to swinging platform 6
in just the right sequence you fall into the lava and die. This really
starts around the third world, which is why I found it to be the most
frustrating of them all. It wasn't really harder than the others, it
just killed me for every mistake I made.
That combined with no
real "saving" was pretty frustrating. The game is divided into 5
worlds, each with 7 levels apiece. If you run out of lives, you start
the world over. It's not that the individual levels are so large that
they need mid-level saves, it's just that the 30th time you replay the
1st level of any given world it tends to get a little old. They also
take a life away every time you exit mid-level, which seems like
unnecessary punishment. Occasionally it seemed like Gish wasn't a ball
of tar, but a living gimp mask that gleefully beat me with a whip while
he bounced around the room.
Spunior: I too consider world 3 to be the toughest one. Still,
despite the difficulty in this particular set of levels I always found
myself trying it again and again until I finally made it. Say what you
want, but the game is very motivating. However, the part about the
repetition leads to a minor complaint of mine. I actually like the
music style a lot. E-guitar riffs mixed with other elements like in the
Egypt level meets my preferences. However, you're destined to go
through some levels again and again until you succeed and I would have
loved to have longer and more music tracks.
As for the physics engine, it does provides some nice options to defeat
your enemies as long as you can gain enough momentum and create enough
pressure. Unlike in other games where you usually only can hit a
certain weak spot in a certain way. Gish can jump on them, smash them
against walls, throw objects, push them off platforms or lure them to
parts that are deadly for them. For instance, the mummy guys tend to
get their neck broken while trying to enter rooms smaller than them. I
admit that this might sound quite brutal, but the 'violence' to be
witnessed in Gish is like the rest of the graphics: cartoon-style.
Pyroman[FO]: I simply loved the music. It was pretty short but
it's a great soundtrack. It's just part of the overall polish the game
has, the enemies look perfect and cartoony, Gish's facial animations
are great and even the loading menu is interesting. The cartoon style
is rather dark, however. More Invader Zim than Care Bears.
ColdForged: The art direction! Good point, and one that is
perfectly conveyed by the loading screens at game launch. Imagine movie
posters with a dark, Gishy theme with resplendent toothy Gishes
assuming the roles of the characters in the posters. So far I've seen The Gish Boys (a delightful parody of The Lost Boys ), Silence of the Gish (a delightful parody of Silence of the Lambs ), and Gishface (you'll never guess... yes, a delightful parody of Scarface ).
And how about that lighting? Though it mostly consists of a fairly
standard 2 layer parallax scrolling view, the levels support actual
light sources (technically they appear to be invisible point light
sources) that illuminate the levels and cast shadows off of geometry in
visually pleasing ways. For instance, break through a wall with a light
behind you and the pieces cast dynamic shadows from any light sources
nearby. Very nicely done. In addition, Gish himself sports quite a
snazzy appearance for a mere ball of tar, reflecting the overall light
in the level (but, unless my memory fails me not
the point light sources) and deforming himself visually to reflect all
of the forces that are currently acting on him, like gravity, friction,
centrifugal force and drag. He -- like the rest of the characters --
does not actually cast a shadow... tar is obviously transparent.
Pyroman[FO]: Coldforged is right, Gish looks, acts and moves
like a big blob of tar in every way. Debris will stick to you as you
bust through sand and crumble blocks. You can even run over moveable
blocks to let them stick to you, then slide underneath them to launch
them like a football. In fact, one of the multiplayer modes is football.
Spunior: While we're at the topic, there currently are five
multiplayer mini-games. Aforementioned football, different 1 on 1 fight
stages (one of them being a homage to Edmund Honda's bath stage in
Street Fighter 2), a level in which you have to collect goodies and a Gish
version of dragster racing. I said 'currently' because you can expect
more content to be added in the future. I haven't had the chance to
test the multiplayer modes against some friends, but they should
provide enough entertainment to waste a few hours. Gamepad recommended
until two of you want to play via keyboard.
As for the
singleplayer value, it took me 5-6 days to complete the game. There are
plenty of reasons to go through it again for the sake of beating the
highscore. Also, after each level you're being told how much secrets
and amber you missed. So, one has handle the trade-off of rushing
through the stage (time bonus) or going for all the goodies. And I'm
one of those guys that don't stop until all secrets are unveiled.
And then there also 29 'time trial' stages. More or less complicated
chambers in which you have to collect all the amber as fast as
possible. It's definitely interesting to see how the early times
compare to those you achieve after having played Gish for a while and internalized the controls.
ColdForged: In an age where new 3D video cards are released
damned-near quarterly -- for increasingly mind-numbing amounts of cash
-- it's refreshing to have a good looking game that runs so well at
maximum detail on modest hardware. I don't know about you guys, but I'm
running at the maximum resolution with nary a problem.
equally amazing how stable I've found shareware to be, considering
these are nominally the "amateurs" of the gaming industry, and Gish
has been no exception. I haven't found the first bug or oddity in the
game yet, though there are a couple of places that are a bit difficult
to traverse when some secrets open up -- areas where Gish should be
able to drop through using his "slippery" mode he now gets stuck a bit.
Maybe that's by design, since I inevitably eventually get through. You
guys seen anything?
Spunior: Now that you mention the performance I'd like to point
out that I'm running the game on my old 800MHz machine. That's 200MHz
below the minimum system requirements listed on Chronic Logic's
website. And guess what, it's really smooth and at no point did I
experience a slowdown. I wasn't even aware that my system doesn't meet
the official requirements until CL's Josiah Pisciotta made a remark
about how my PC is even slower than his when I talked to him about the
Pyroman[FO]: Personally, I haven't gotten stuck though I did
crash once. My system is acting pretty strange lately though, it seemed
to be an isolated incident. So far Gish has been rock solid.
Gish is also easy to get. You can download the demo
and purchase the full game online. It's $19.95 for the downloadable
version and $25.95 if you want a CD shipped to you. Then you get a
CD-Key in your email and you're good to go. No annoying CD checks, no
"phone home" checking while playing that I can tell. Very little
hassle, just put in the CD-Key, it registers over the internet and
you're bouncing around in no time. After I decided to buy Gish I had the full game up and running in about 10 minutes.
ColdForged: Yeah, painless download process for me as well. Since this is winding down and I'm yearning to actually play the game rather than babble with you fine people, I'll just list some favorite parts... feel free to share.
1) There's these nice crates slightly smaller than Gish himself hanging
from chains -- aside: luckily side-scroller stories needn't be fairly
robust, because there is just no explaining
the bizarre make-up of most of these levels... personally if I found a
sewer environment remotely like these, I'd be out of there like a shot
-- which you have to hop up onto, balance yourself on, then leap from
to the next higher hanging crate. The mechanics and physics of it are
2) The first time I landed on this set of columns
and it started falling in the direction that I had inadvertently pushed
it, heading right for the next column in the series seemingly with
every indication of knocking that one down. Did I mention that these
were the sole things in existence keeping me out of lava? I may have
neglected mentioning that.
Lots of very fun puzzles and events. In my mind, Gish is certainly worth my cash. Glad Spunior found it for us.
Spunior: Hey, I rock like that. Ahem, anyway. What it boils down to is that Gish
has surpassed my expectations and in fact turned out to be the most
enjoyable and creative platform game I've played in the past years. On
any system. Even beating the superb Viewtiful Joe on my list.
Interestingly enough, the two most refreshing platform titles happen to
be 3D graphics-based 2D concepts. And both of them somehow feature
movie references, although in a different way.
Gish is worth the
$20 without any question. It's not only better than most other games in
its price class, it provides more fun and quality than many other games
that cost twice the money.
The game already received a recent update that added some more content.
The developers are currently working on a new update that will feature
a new VS. Mode and probably some additional levels. That one is
supposed to come out in a few weeks. The Linux version of Gish will be
available at around the same time or even sooner. You can purchase the
Windows version now and download the Tux-compatible version with the
same key code once it's out.
Also, according to Chronic Logic chances are "really good" that we'll
see a full add-on to Gish in the future. They also might make a free
expansion. And as Edmund McMillen said in our Q&A, this was
unlikely to be the one and only game starring Gish.
Make sure to download the demo to get a grasp of the game and see what Pyro, ColdForged and ze German have been babbling about. And take a look at our Gish Q&A
for more background information if you haven't done that yet. Congrats
to Edmund and the whole Chronic Logic crew for releasing an excellent
game and keeping up their noteworthy track record!
- Spunior (who'll try to find enough time to review that one other game. Hi Gabby!)