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300 Word Review – Passage

Passage is a perfect game.

Not perfect in the sense that it is better than all other games. It’s perfect in the sense that it has nothing extraneous. Every element seems to have the incredible weight of necessity.

Beyond its elegance, the brilliance of Passage is that it uses the language of video games to subtly reinterpret familiar situations, giving the player a new perspective on games they’ve already played. The maze that is always below you is a stand in for the confounding gauntlet of professional choices we all have to navigate. Points and treasure chests represent the material riches of life that don’t always come easy. Life-long companionship is the thing that we irrationally desire even though it doesn’t seem to tangibly benefit us.

The graphics of Passage were made to fit within the constraints of Kokoromi’s Gamma256 show. However, they work on an additional level. The themes of the game, the choices between love and riches and adventure, are just the sort of choices that are now being grappled with by those who have grown up playing video games. Passage’s visuals are poignantly ironic, a nostalgic throwback to a time when its player’s worries were more superficial, but used to speak to their contemporary concerns.

Eric-Jon Rossel Waugh once wrote that in Silent Hill 2 you almost always get the ending you deserve. No more accurate thing can be said about Passage, and that aspect is simultaneously what makes it so much a game and so much like life.

You can’t win in Passage, you and your companion will always die, alone or beside each other. The game’s final moments lay bare how much of our sense of meaning and value are wrapped up in time and death. No moment is extraneous in the face of oblivion.

6 Comments

  1. Frank wrote:

    >> Eric-Jon Rossel Waugh once wrote that in Silent Hill 2 you almost always get the ending you deserve. No more accurate thing can be said about Passage, and that aspect is simultaneously what makes it so much a game and so much like life.

    Ok, I’ll bite. What does this mean? I played Passage 5 or 6 times and got a bunch of different endings, I guess. I mean, I got different scores. Which one did I deserve?

    Hey, it’s a lovely little game, with some really interesting and original ideas in it. It’s also “Death of Aeris” for the indie game crowd. So forgive me a bit of eye rolling among all the tears.

    Friday, February 8, 2008 at 3:49 am | Permalink
  2. Passage is cute. Can’t we just leave it at that without tossing the “perfect game” weight on to it?

    I think what you really mean to express is that Passage is the perfect game FOR YOU. In terms of how it expresses itself, Passage completely meets your aesthetics on a narrative game level, right?

    Friday, February 8, 2008 at 5:32 am | Permalink
  3. Bob wrote:

    “Passage” doesn’t quite do it for me, though I admire its point-blank inexplicability. Functionally, the game is all kinds of confused, as there’s nothing there to do, really, except press right and see how far you can get. The material riches you mentioned look cleverly like typical in-game collectible items, but all they do is slow your character down, and even if they didn’t they’re still buried so far deep inside their mazes that it exploring for them doesn’t quite seem worth it anyway. The girl speeds you up to a barely faster pace, but once she kicks the bucket the snail-pace you crawl at makes the extra gains achieved with her somewhat pyrrhic.

    For me, the most engaging aspect of the game is traveling onward and onward, watching the game’s scenery blend and change together in a transcendent cascade of pixelated transitions. Therefore, I just plain avoid the girl and the riches below, because all they do is keep you from seeing as full a breadth of the game’s panoramic tapestry of 8-bit imagery as possible. Does that mean I’m missing out on the broader human story of love, loss and the pursuit of material goods? Or does it suggest something lonely and solitary about my nature, for me to spurn such spritely graces?

    Frankly I don’t know, and I’m not really prepared to say whether I care or not, yet. “Passage” is too straightforward to work as an emotional game, for my tastes. When I play, it’s more of an intellectual exercise, a consideration of several themes of life in sketchy scratches on a caveman’s wall. “Passage” is the game equivalent of graffiti, in the strictest anthropological sense– it represents a strict record of human experience, evoking existentialist dilemmas without invoking them directly.

    Part of this is alright– as a “checkered game of life,” I’ll admit it does Milton Bradley one better– but we’re used to the little subtleties of game mechanics like this. “Passage” is like “Ico” on a smaller scale, only strangely less intimate thanks to its reluctance to fully elaborate on the functional theme of supportive codependence. While it’s all well and good for a game to expect (and respect) enough of its audience not to have to spoonfeed them everything, I’d prefer more games whose gameplay asks the big questions instead of merely implying them.

    By the way, Pratt, there’s a “Split Post” button for a reason. In my eyes, seeing 300 words dumped on the front page on a regular basis is a headache and a half…

    Friday, February 8, 2008 at 6:10 am | Permalink
  4. Charles Joseph wrote:

    Frank, you deserved all the endings you got. In my opinion, Passage basically makes the argument that, excepting the flow of time, we have a good deal of control over our destiny. Our choices mean something. This is why I suggested that it makes it more like a game. Unlike the death of Aeris, which the player has no influence over, you can to some extent steer your way to your desired outcome. You’ll always lose, but you can lose in very different states, chasing goals that are sometimes of your own making. I guess what I’m saying is that Passage is like Tetris crossed with GTA. Which sounds a little crazy actually.

    Charley, like I said, I didn’t really mean perfect in the ‘value’ sense of the word. That’s why I said that it was A perfect game and not THE perfect game. What meant was that it is perfect in the sense of a perfect circle. I’ll admit that this is a subtle and maybe non-existent distinction. I guess what I was trying to say is that I admire the care with which it was put together. I feel like all the elements work in perfect proportions. There’s no fat, in other words. This is a subjective perspective as well, of course. The original draft was less audacious, calling it “nearly a perfect game”, but to my mind I couldn’t think of what the “nearly” referred to.

    Bob, I chose 300 words because that fills the height of one screen on my monitor, which I’m taking for about average. I would also point out that your entire comment is 425 words.

    Friday, February 8, 2008 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  5. Frank wrote:

    Also, to join the dogpile on Bob: Passage isn’t particularly inexplicable. It’s a bit mysterious, but figuring out what’s going on in the game (hint: it’s not just about going right) is most of the fun, and should be well within the capabilities of a bright graduate student. ;)

    After thinking about it more, and talking to Charles, I think I understand a bit better what people mean when they talk about how paying attention to the score in Passage is “missing the point”. It’s not that you shouldn’t play for score, it’s that Passage directs the player’s attention to the meaning of the score in an interesting way. When this works, it causes the player to stop and question what they’re doing, and why. If this is the case, then people who ignore the score are the ones missing the point. So I still win yay.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  6. This is a nifty little game. Took a couple of plays to click what it was up to.

    I especially like the avenues that are blocked off to you when you’re with your mate, that then open up again once she’s gone. And yet… And yet.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

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