Monday, August 10, 2015

The molten rituals of Hylics

Hylics, by Mason Linderoth, is one of the best RPGs made in the last decade. Imagine a game finely distilled so as to consist solely of the weird funk of Earthbound plus some David Cronenberg technoflesh plus the young dread of Gumby... and when you've completely imagined that, now look in your weathered dusty hands to find the freshest nugget you've ever seen.

You should make it your duty to play it, and it's (refreshingly) short for an RPG at 2-3 hours, so go to it. (WARNING 1: SPOILERS FOLLOW. WARNING 2: LOTS OF HYLICS GIFS...)

There are a lot of things to like about Hylics. The randomly generated dialog text both exposes the emptiness of most RPG NPC dialog while simultaneously showing how much better and more poetic it can be. But maybe the art style is the most obvious thing to love, a bold mix of dithered stopmotion that feels soft but crunchy. Much like how the most superficial observation you can make about Stephen Lavelle's masterpiece Slave of God is that it's like drugs or something, the most superficial observation you can make about Hylics is that it's surreal or "trippy."

What impresses me about this look is the way it still establishes visual hierarchy and has very readable character / world design, it is some very superbly structured messiness. "Ambient" character are given a 1-bit black and white sprite treatment, while talkable NPCs get color, and hostile NPCs get jittery animation.

Oh my god, the animation! This is where Hylics really shines. Stop motion styled photo stuff is so often about playing with time, but because Hylics is digital, it's much more interested in playing with the material.

So many things melt and disintegrate in Hylics, from the first time you "accidentally crush" a trash can, to the way you unwrap a warm burrito during battle -- one of the most beautiful RPG animations of all time. In fact, just about every battle animation here makes Final Fantasy summons smell like dad.

Cacti plunge into the ground and "ambulatory skulls" disintegrate at your touch. Clay sigils pulse out of televisions, your body and face melt upon (fairly frequent) death, and in the last dungeon you're basically just plowing through all this meat and making a mess on the floor. It makes you realize how "gibs" in games are usually so dry, rigid, and motionless.

Hylics is a world of flesh, a game that congeals and melts in your hand. And it is stunning.