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Treasure Adventure Game is not without its flaws–the developer is remaking it and has promised to address many of them. It’s a shame that its introductory sequence is one of them because it goes on for a very, very long time. There was a while where the length of the introductory cartoon was a point of pride, where long cutscenes meant a game was a Good Solid Game, and that’s an attitude which has taken a long time to fade. TAG is a lot more longwinded than it ought to be. There’s an opening narration talking about the evil wizard and the cataclysm and the twelve treasures and all of that. And that’s revealed to be backstory to an adventure undertaken by two friends and the young son of one of them to find the legendary twelve treasures. And that’s skipped over in the opening credits–which feature a sort of slide presentation about the trio’s adventures–as backstory for the climax of their journey, when they bring all twelve treasures to the final temple. And that turns out to be a flashback nightmare that you wake up from–finally you get control of your main character. And you dick around a few islands for a while until you finally get your mission, which is to find all twelve treasures and Set Right What Went Wrong or whatever.

Like I said, it takes a while.

But once the game opens up, it opens the fuck up. After you find the first treasure, the game basically tells you, okay, what you just did you’ve got to do eleven more times and that’s the flow of the game: Find a treasure, bring it to the temple, get an item, use the item to find a map, use the map to find the next treasure, bring it to the temple, repeat until there’s nothing more to do. In no way does the game grab your next and drag you to the next checkpoint, but after its opening, it expects you’ve been paying attention and know how to play a videogame. You get a parrot friend who acts as a companion/hint system, but while it gives you guidance for the first few quests and can give you vague pointers towards specific puzzles, for the most part it’s just there to keep you company. Right now, all it’s telling me is that I’ve got all I need to go on my journey and I’ve got to find where the next treasure is. The map points to the coordinates, but it gives you no instructions how to get there. If you need an item, or need to go into a specific dungeon, well, you’re an adventurer. Go adventure. It’s trendy to compare things to Dark Souls when you just mean “it’s hard”, but in terms of dumping you in a world and expecting you’ll figure it out, it’s a distant cousin.

The issues I’m finding with the game–occasionally it’s slightly more aimless than it ought to be, the movement is a little too slow, the issues with the introduction–are all fairly easy to ignore in light of the raw quality of the rest of the game. It’s very simple pixel art, but the color scheme is lovely–it’s bright and beautiful and pleasant.

What I adore about TAG is how utterly unpretentious it is. Its grandness and epic scope is less because it wants to be an Important, Canonical Work and more because it delights in its own existence. It’s a happy labor of love.

Fez is the work of a genius who’s happy that he’s sold as many copies as he has because ha ha, you motherfuckers, I’ve finally shown you all: Gomez’s adventure is important to him because it sets him apart, marks him as special, gives him abilities no one else has, lets him see things no one else can see, lets him understand the world the deepest of everybody. Yes, yes, Gomez is essentially cleaning up his own mess but let’s forget about that: HE IS SAVING THE WORLD. And the world *is* an illusion: Its art style ensures that we only get *glimpses* of its true nature, ideas of what it “really” looks like. Treasure Adventure Game wants you to appreciate its world, wants you to enjoy it, and allows you to love it.

It’s a love letter to the games of Orlando’s youth: What Treasure Adventure Game reminds me, most of all, is being a kid and talking to my friends about the Nintendo games we’d make when we grew up–all of the notebooks of elaborate dungeons and traps and puzzles, of the hardest dungeons ever, of the coolest bosses. Stephen Orlando is one of those rare people who actually grew up to make that game.

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The liner notes to Treasure Adventure Game state, simply, that it’s a love letter to the games that developer Stephen Orlando played as a kid and “the countless hours of joy” that they brought him.

Holy shit. Joy, eh? That’s a word we rarely see. Right!, we say. This shit used to be fun! A comment left by Aaron Jean on Electron Dance says it well: 

I’ve been struck lately by just how dark gaming is at the moment….Why can’t we have more genuinely pleasant worlds in our games?..I do wish there were more worlds I felt like saving.

This is Blue Sky In Games stuff, and it’s true: Indie games can be depressing as shit. The existence of Depression Quest–released on Valentine’s Day, for fuck’s sake, and we say the scene doesn’t romanticize depression!–seems like it’s almost satirical, like the sad indie hipster equivalent of a sitcom kid pining for Super Murder Death Kill 3000 IV.

I’d extend this a little further to not just be videogames–there’s a general view out there that sad shit is deeper than happy shit. Let’s face it: When I was 17 I was listening to Nirvana and Alice in Chains while classmates were listening to Britney Spears and N’Sync. The associations of depression with introspection and intelligence, and bliss as a condition of ignorance–they’ve been associations I’ve never been able to quite slough off. Most of us can’t.

Things are somewhat different now than when Blue Sky was written–the rise of pixel games had yet to occur, and gaming was in a funny spot where it desperately wanted to avoid any perception that it was “kiddie” in any way. What can I say: I guess we all wanted to appear more mature so we made everything brown and violent.

Games are uncomfortable with themselves: Whether we’re deconstructing mechanics by calling them stupid while at the same time making a game about them a la Bioshock or The Line, or adding interaction to self-excoriating prose poems in order to attempt to say something profound, I feel we’re very reticent to let games be Games.

Look at Mass Effect 2: It’s one of my favorite games because it does not see anything shameful in telling a blockbuster starship captain story. You have a group of characters, all with their own shady pasts; an evil enemy, with a dark secret; some great pew pew shootemup action–Mass Effect 2 does not think that a videogame is a bad thing to be, and so instead of trying–and failing–to be Art (and by the way, one thing we all seem to miss about Games As Art is that “Art” is an expression of intent, rather than of quality…), Mass Effect 2 succeeds in being a Great Videogame.

Treasure Adventure Game sees nothing wrong with being a fun challenging platformer; the couple hours I’ve spent with it are demonstrating that by attempting to be a great version of something simple, it almost transcends its genre.

It’s really nice to play a game made in a state of joy.