Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Game On

Creaks

All the things that go bump in the night

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Another game from my favorite indie game company, Creaks is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer, entirely hand drawn in ink and watercolor, including our humble protagonist character.

"The ground starts shaking, light bulbs are breaking— and something rather unusual is happening right behind the walls of your very room. Equipped with nothing but wit and courage, you slowly descend into a world inhabited by avian folk and seemingly deadly furniture monsters."

Our hero is at his desk, reading a book, when the light in his room flickers.

While trying to fix the light, it breaks in his hands, the building shudders, the pull-down shade covers his window, and the wallpaper peels down, revealing a mysterious metal hatch. He gets a flashlight and enters the hatch into a dark tunnel but drops the flashlight and has to go down the ladder without it. Many of the puzzles involve light, so it makes sense that they take away the flashlight at the beginning. The designer said the flashlight gave our hero “too much power.”

He descends the ladder into a mysterious underground cavern with a huge, crumbling castle.

The game is called “Creaks” for a reason. It's all about the things that go bump in the night. This is a place of creatures that are monsters in the dark, but when you shine a light on them, they turn into ordinary objects. The game calls them 'creaks.' Barking robot dogs become a chest of drawers with a plant on top. A spiky-headed creature wearing a fur coat becomes a coat rack. A floating deadly jellyfish becomes a world globe.

The castle is actively crumbling while you try to travel through it. As you play through the game, the story is revealed to you — sometimes because a board or brick has fallen, allowing you to peek through. The mysterious denizens of this underground castle appear to be bird people, revealed in the paintings you discover in your explorations. It doesn't take long for you to realize something threatens to destroy this world, and you have the chance to stop it.

The puzzles themselves are very simple, but pretty clever. I don't see a lot of recycled puzzles in this game — they're new ideas. It’s not a very active interface. You have side-to-side motion, you can jump over gaps, and you can activate the collectible “paintings” throughout the game. The puzzles depend upon timing and the use of lights, turned on by switches or plates. If you don’t time it just right, your character dies, and you have to do that puzzle over.

Designers Jan Chlup and Radim Jurda took eight years to complete this game. Like many of Amanita's games, originally Creaks was created as a final project for a degree in animation. They worked with Amanita Designs to further refine and improve it to make it a playable, entertaining game.

The art in this game is fabulous. It is a genuine pleasure to play a game that looks hand-drawn, instead of the usual obsessively rendered detail.

The music for Creaks is composed by Joe Acheson of Hidden Orchestra, who said "In keeping with the hand-drawn visual aesthetic of the game, the music features no 'fake' software-sampled instruments. All the music is performed by real musicians playing acoustic instruments," with the exception of the scenes in the science lab, which feature synthesizers and electronic modules. This is his first soundtrack for a game, but it does exactly what a game soundtrack should do — it’s music that doesn't demand your attention, and helps you focus on the game.

Available on SteamOS for PC and Macintosh for $19.99. Total playtime for me was around 10 hours.