So a game I never heard of before, a developer I never heard of before. With a purchase price of just a few pounds and a Youtube video parading a Llamasoft-esque visual flair, I couldn't pass it up.
Leave Home is a gorgeous, frenetic, procedurally-generated shoot 'em up that lasts less than five minutes. Yes, go ahead, read that again. Less than five minutes, longer than it took to buy.
I didn't know what to expect, but when I started up the executable, the chill-out tranquillity of the title page touched me, made me love it before I'd even tried the game itself.
So I progressed to the instructions. The retro font is hard on the eyes but it doesn't matter, the game is light on detail. You can't die. The more you shoot, the more blue chips you collect, the angrier you become. The angrier you become, the harder the game. It took the developer a year to make.
On my first game, I got blowed up plenty. Frustrated, I went back to the title screen and savoured that again for a few minutes. This game, like most shoot 'em ups, is not particularly compatible with keyboard play. You really need a gamepad to bond with it. I don't have a gamepad.
But I could already tell that Leave Home was from the Space Giraffe stable of game design. Crowd the screen with effervescent, bleeding colour and sprinkle with difficulty that, once mastered, enables the player to dissolve into a Zen state of flow that not even the Dalai Lama could achieve. Unlike Space Giraffe, Leave Home adapts its procedurally-generated difficulty to how well you're coping. In my case, it wasn't just bad, it was shit, take your PC out of here chum and don't darken my door of hypermanic visual splendour with your sorry keyboard playing ass again.
So I went back for another go. A big revelation was working out how to use the split, which moves the lasers down the flank of your ship towards the rear, allowing you to fire in directions other than forwards. But on the keyboard, the split is like a untethered winch; if you hold down the split key, your lasers slowly dial backwards but fall back to the front as soon as you release. It does make shooting in any other direction except forwards sensationally more difficult.
Did I tell you I wasn't using a gamepad?
When you reach the end of your journey, the action fades and the game unclenches, showing you what appears to be a graphical rendition of your anger over the course of the game. It's a nice touch which flew straight over my head the first time I played.
While I was initially disappointed with the game, getting better on subsequent attempts improved my appreciation of it; and once again I fall into the paradox of a game's worth being measured by how well it strokes the gamer's ego. But think of VVVVVV and Space Giraffe, rewarding hardcore devotion with hardcore affection. It isn't as difficult to love as Space Giraffe due to it's brief lifespan (I still don't love Space Giraffe, but I would like to, one day when I'm less frightened of Jeff Minter's technoLSD).
The game has lodged itself in my brain, between two synapses where something important should be. You might discard it as just a little tech demo, a fragment of an experience that an indie developer couldn't be arsed to complete, but you'd be wrong. This is a tight, minimalist game that is both energetic and relaxing in equal measure; a lot of work has gone into this.
Leave Home is available direct from hermitgames, at a reduced price of $3 for three months.
Post-game buzz: Hardcore for the casual gamer. A nice find. Love that title screen.
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