The Awe­some Ad­ven­tures Of Cap­tain Spirit

No we’re not cry­ing, YOU’RE cry­ing

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We know what bad guys look like – games have re­in­forced the stereo­type for years. We recog­nise them even be­fore the men­ac­ing

mu­sic kicks in.

It’s dif­fer­ent in The Awe­some Ad­ven­tures of Cap­tain Spirit, though. The line be­tween ar­che­typal good and bad char­ac­ters isn’t blurred as much as non-ex­is­tent, and there’s no sub­tle cam­era an­gles or mu­sic cues to chore­o­graph how we’re sup­posed to feel about them. But when the good guys do ter­ri­ble things, and the bad guys are ca­pa­ble of kind­ness, how are we sup­posed to feel? And what can we do when the de­ci­sions we make – the ones made on reck­less, feck­less im­pulse – are the wrong ones?

Dontnod’s Life Is Strange is a su­per­nat­u­ral com­ing-of-age tale, and it’s to this uni­verse that we re­turn to in Cap­tain Spirit. And while we don’t, as yet, know how Chris’ story fits into Life Is Strange 2, we know one thing: our choices mat­ter.

Clock­ing in at just a cou­ple of hours long, Cap­tain Spirit fea­tures just two main char­ac­ters, and set en­tirely in and around a sin­gle-story, run­down house. We meet Chris, a small kid with an enor­mous imag­i­na­tion, and it’s this abil­ity to fab­ri­cate sto­ries that makes up much of Cap­tain Spirit's ad­ven­tures. A trip to turn on the hot wa­ter be­comes a battle against the hulk­ing Wa­ter Eater, and a miscellaneous pile of rub­bish in the yard be­comes a se­cret maze.

And he’s a good kid; kind and thought­ful. He com­pletes house­hold chores – laun­dry, wash­ing up, fix­ing lunch – with­out be­ing asked. He talks to him­self a lot – a fairly typ­i­cal side­ef­fect of sin­gle-child-ism, we reckon – but as the story am­bles along, you’ll re­alise he’s lonely, and how im­mers­ing him­self in a make-believe life is some­times prefer­able to his real one.

If you’ve played any of the pre­vi­ous Life Is Strange episodes, the me­chan­ics will feel the same. Be­yond a cou­ple of harder-than-you-might-ex­pect puz­zles it’s pretty much do this, col­lect that. Oc­ca­sion­ally the prompts are hid­den be­hind the char­ac­ter or props, and ev­ery now and then your in­vis­i­ble ret­i­cle gets a lit­tle twitchy, jump­ing from one prompt to the next, but the tasks all feel a bit like filler, re­ally; the story is what mat­ters here.

De­spite a mas­ter­ful lack of vi­o­lence, the story (child be­reave­ment and abuse) is bru­tal and heart­break­ing nonethe­less. You feel bad for Chris, and his fa­ther, and then fu­ri­ous, and then des­per­ately sad again, which is a lot of emo­tions to cy­cle through in such a brief amount of time. And though it feels very much as though every­thing – from the score, to the graph­ics, to the lit­tle in-game puz­zles – is stitched to­gether to be as in­ten­tion­ally emo­tional as pos­si­ble, the care­ful char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion makes the cast, and story, come to life… even if it is re­ally, re­ally tough to watch some­times.

VER­DICT

A tough-to-watch vi­gnette of fa­mil­ial love and loss

Chris re­treats into his own lit­tle world of superheroes and su­pervil­lains to coun­ter­act his sad, lonely ex­is­tence, turn­ing every­day chores and events into fun lit­tle games to keep him­self busy. In his world, the good guys al­ways win.

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