Schizoid’s bizarre album of video games, deemed Initiation, was an exciting surprise when we hatched it open on Monday. There was a phenomenal collaboration between poetry, gameplay, aesthetics, music, and innovation that really suggested a unique vision from this young group of developers. Side B of Initiation is a bit harder to swallow, lacking some of the charms of the earlier tracks. However, it does have its redeeming qualities.
Track Six: “Flick”
“Flick” is the oddball genre bender at the center of Initiation. It feels misplaced and disassociated from the rest of the content. This makes sense when you discover that this game wasn’t directly designed by Schizoid, but rather by a close friend of the collective. It’s a risk that doesn’t pay off, derailing much of the album’s momentum.
The aesthetic change is what’s most jarring about “Flick”. The art style feel ripped directly from The Behemoth – the creators of Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers – and might even border on trademark infringement. This isn’t just a tribute, it’s almost a copy, and one that feels out of place. With thick outlines, bright colors, and twisted sprites, “Flick” is a meager flash-game amidst a collection of beautiful pixel art.
But unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t save the day. Flick is an alien who has crash landed on a planet full of obstacles and can only rely on the limited boost ability of his starship to get back into space. To remain in the air, the player must collect fuel cells, dodging obstructions with a simple back-and-forth motion on the keyboard. “Flick” is both the lead character and the primary action of the player; a mechanic that wears thin quickly. It’s far too easy to go careening off screen and the controls struggle to find any kind of precision. “Flick” could be fun as a mobile game, but within this album of games, it’s a low point.
Track Seven: “Android Sketches”
The underappreciated gem of the album is “Android Sketches”, a game as boldly simple as its predecessor “Killer”. It’s a return to the minimalist style of Initiation’s early efforts, combined with abstract poetry meant to stimulate the mind of the player.
The goal is deceivingly straightforward: draw a line from one point on the screen to another. But scores of tiny flecks of pixels meander across the screen – like microbes floating in a petri dish – and if you run into them you’re forced to start over. This might not sound like much of a challenge, but that’s because the overwhelming number of “enemies” on screen has to be seen to be believed. Squeezing through the small crevices of open space becomes a true accomplishment and the game adds interesting elements like teleportation circles and patterned goal points to contribute to the growing tension.
But “Android Sketches” feels almost as meditative as “The Way of Yiji”. The effortless act of drawing a line becomes soothing and comforting. It’s a return to form after two of the lesser tracks on the album and hopefully a portent of things to come. “Android Sketches” is my personal favorite game on Initiation and while it isn’t the flashiest of the bunch, it does linger.
Track Eight: “City of Death”
With such a flood of original content and gameplay, it was surprising to see Schizoid fall for the age old video game stereotype: zombies. Initiation is nothing if not unique and when I first saw the subject matter of “City of Death”, I rolled my eyes. I was afraid it would be the track that sounded a bit too much like the old album. No progression, no growth.
But eventually “City of Death” does prove itself. The game takes place far into the zombie apocalypse, where even standard weapons have begun to fall into disrepair. As such, your character is forced to enter a zombie infested city completely unarmed; with the task of activating twelve bombs that have the potential to end the effects of the virulent virus. If the player is spotted by the undead, they can choose to sprint, but their energy runs out quickly and they have to find a shadowy area to lose their pursuers. Like “Android Sketches”, the amount of enemies on screen can be overwhelming. Timing when to sprint is the key, because the zombies are naturally faster than you. If you waste your energy, you’re as good as dead.
“City of Death” is a bit of a disappointment, if only because I had been trained to expect the strange from the rest of Initiation. But for what it’s worth, “City of Death” is a tremendously fun addition to Schizoid’s roster.
Track Nine: “Mother”
I don’t have much to say about “Mother”. It was ruined for me by poor execution. The game might as well be the annoyingly scratched track on the album, unable to be played no matter how hard you try to fix it.
On face value, the game has a gorgeous cut-and-paste aesthetic and an astronaut scenario that peaked my nerdy attention. “Mother” focuses on two primary mechanics: typing speed and memorization. The game feeds you a set of instruction and you have to follow them without wasting any time. For example, you are told how to open a control panel and then given a series of timed commands to execute perfectly. Fail once and you’re forced to start over again.
Unfortunately, the game just didn’t want to register my typing. It was utterly unplayable from a technical standpoint. I believe it would be biased to call this a bad experience, because I didn’t truly play “Mother”; but if it’s as buggy for others as it was for me, it’s certainly the lowest point of Initiation. Not the kind of momentum you want leading into the final track…
Track Ten: “Suck, Explode and Mutate”
…but “Suck, Explode and Mutate” makes up for the shortcomings of the rest of Side B. I’m a mark for arcade space shooters like Galaga and Hypership: Out of Control and this game puts an excellent twist on the genre. Players fly about the screen in a vampiric spaceship, stealing energy from other ships and using their power to destroy massive enemies. There’s a very limited time window to accomplish the desired destruction and you have to be quick when absorbing the victimized craft. Your power is minimal at best on your own and without the support of your thralls, you have no chance. “Suck, Explode, and Mutate” is a button-mash-y, tense, and exhilarating experience that’s a perfect finale to Schizoid’s grand experiment.
This is a company that’s at its best when it subverts expectations and conventions about traditional game ideas. Side B of Initiation loses its way when it attempts to be predictable. Unfortunately, its few shining moments are barely enough to compare to Side A’s steady attempts at brilliance (“attempts” being the key word). However, I stick with my assessment that “Android Sketches” is the single best piece of gaming in this entire collection; and since it’s downloaded as a whole, you can simply skip over the more problematic experiences.
Mostly, I hope we see more of Schizoid. They’ve promised to continue releasing albums as long as they have the financial support necessary to continue. This a unique format that serves this budding company well, separating them from the vast indie competition. They’re still young and prone to making bold risks and it wouldn’t surprise me if Initiation is a stepping stone on a path to something much, much greater. I would ask that you give them a donation if you choose to download this project, but you can also get it for free.
Experimental games are clawing at the future of the industry and Schizoid has the raw potential to work on a whole other level. They just need to work on tweaking the experiences to be more intuitive and playable. Enjoy!