Legend of Kalevala
Here is transcription of the inner monologue I had when playing Legend of Kalevala, the new adventure-platformer from Dit Dah Games: Huh.... that spaceship on the title screen looks like Samus Aran's. Guess I should hit play... Great... I'm apparently waking up in an unfamiliar place with amnesia... Like THAT'S never been done before. However, those are some pretty sweet VGA retro-jungle graphi- Wait. Am I that purple metallic pterodactyl-wolf? Who talks like an archaeologist? That's new... And I can shoot quills? Okay. I'm in love with this game. Admittedly, you make have different standards for enjoyment, but I think you'll be convinced just as quick.
The pterodactyl-wolf moves with the [arrow] keys, jumps with [X] and, once you've gained the ability, fires with [C]. Scattered around the world are various switches and ability power-ups, activated with the [up] key, as well as the brain icons which grant you a little of your memory back. New abilities are introduced and explained over the course of the game. The game is fairly non-linear and rewards exploration, but should you need a push in the right direction, the [N] key brings up the map with the general location of your next objective. Be prepared to discover every nook and cranny to fully regain your memory and, just maybe, make your way to a place you can call home.
Analysis: Legend of Kalevala has that perfect mix of old and new, alien and human, story and action. Certainly it's not out of place with metroidvania bretheren, but it reminded me most of Another World, with a shade of Flashback: The Quest for Identity. It's easy to make a mysterious world and throw an amnesiac in it. It's much harder to answer those mysteries in a way that is complete, sensical and intriguing, and this game does just that. Likewise, Legend of Kalavela manages the balance of making its player-character unfamiliar but empathize-able. The player shares his sense of surprise as he learns all that he can do and of his role in the world around him. It is cool that he is so definitely an animal. A sentient and intelligent one certainly, but one that approaches the world in a not-quite-human human way. It's quite a departure from the usual no-backstory Space Marine, and just might be my favorite new game character so far this year. He deserves to be in a game with stunning visuals and a catchy soundtrack and this is just that.
Some of the game's strongest points do end up being weaknesses in a way: The graphics are so pretty that they distract from being functional. Some doors are easy to miss in the shadows, and foreground/background elements look like things you should really be able to land on. Eventually I was able to work out what sprites were jump-off-able, but that was only after some missed jumps and a bit of annoying backtracking. Also considering the number of airborne enemies, I found that I kept trying to shoot while jumping, even though my conscious mind told me that it wasn't going to work. Having the ability from the start would have eased a lot of frustration. Finally, and this is going to sound really petty, but using [N] and not [M] to bring up the map goes against everything I hold dear.
If I may digress into a mini-rant, the thing that confused me the most about Legend of Kalevala was its name. I realize that "Legend of X" has been a common game titling scheme ever since Link first realized that it was dangerous to go alone. Likewise when developers use cool sounding non-English words to name in-universe planets, it gives it that little twist of onomastic flair. However, the combination really doesn't work here considering the actual Legend of Kalevala that this game has little to do with, except obliquely near the end. I suppose this is just the influence of Finnish epics, MST3K episodes or Scrooge McDuck comics, but man, if you invoke Kalevala, I darn well expect a Sampo to show up quick!
Mythological quibbling aside, Legend of Kalevala is an excellent game! Its easy enough to jump straight in, but has a ton of hidden secrets for experts to find (especially if you want the best ending)... along with a few locked doors that just beg for further expansion. This game is a perfect antidote to the doldrums of summer.
Thanks to Valerie, Alkalannar, Ray, Felix, Cyberjar88, and Ldog for sending this one in!