Review: A Man’s Quest

Let me start off by saying that Indie DB is very much like an ancient temple in the sense that it is ‘booby-trapped’ with quite a lot of games you will never want to play, or regret ever playing, though there are still a good many worth examining. While the gems on this website tend to hide, as they are wont to do, perusing the database will almost always yield something of worth. One such game is Drunk Devs’ arguably first original game, A Man’s Quest: a 2-Dimensional platformer drawn in true 8-bit fashion–proper colour pallet and everything–in which you play as a boy who leaves home to play in the woods, and in an effort to best your rival, you wind up ascending a giant tower to pee off the top of it.

One begins the game with no abilities aside from that to move left and right, as well as jump. Simple enough. You spend a good while mastering the jump ability, and as you progress through the forest terrain, hazards such as bottomless pits and lethal spikes are introduced. It is also possible that the respawn system is introduced here as well: when you are killed in the game, you pop back up on the nearest stable platform you touched. There are no lives to manage or hit-points to monitor; the system allows for an experimental approach in puzzle solving, in the sense that the player is not set back a considerable amount of time or distance. The result is a learning approach that does not pressure the player against the clock or threaten them with a game over; it places focus solely on level design itself.

As you progress, these concepts remain ever present, while new gameplay elements are added here and there, thus creating the game’s core mechanics and learning ramp.

While short in length, A Man’s Quest certainly manages a form of a difficulty curve, though without employing any manner of combat at all. There are not necessarily enemies so much as there are moving things that kill you. I mean that in the sense that you have no opponents in the game simply because you cannot oppose them head on. Enemies, in the form of moving, spiked…things, serve as obstacles for you to overcome using your ever growing knowledge of the game’s mechanics. Truth be told, this curve is rather linear, and not too steep either, as there is only so much one can do in the limited dimensions of the game. However the most notable and remarkable aspect of this game, which gives it immediate warrant to be played by my own standards is this:

Aside from a sub-plot about freeing trapped spirits, there’s not much to the story itself; what the game really scores points on, from a writing perspective, is its event progression, in the sense that a game that can be beaten in well under half of an hour manages to emulate the first two acts of the Hero’s Journey almost in their entirety.

  1. Call to Adventure: Your quest really begins when you resolve to go find something really big to pee off of. No I wasn’t joking before. Your rival, Kevin, has claimed a giant tree, so to one-up him, you are trying to find something bigger.
  2. Refusal of the Call: After your journey begins, your hero considers turning back at a graveyard, deeming it too dangerous to progress through.
  3. Supernatural Aid: Right when you’re about to turn back, though, a ghost appears, urging you to follow it, and you do.
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold: The graveyard area was symbolic of the last element of your human world: death. By continuing onward and into a cave later, you effectively leave the mortal world you knew behind and enter the new one.
  5. The Belly of the Whale: After a large skip forward, you are climbing a great tower to go do the pee thing I mentioned three times now, masquerading as ‘The Chosen One’ so the ghost you followed earlier will help you. On your way up, you discover a corpse on the ground, and it is revealed to be the corpse of a fake chosen one (i.e. you). The hero here feels mixed feelings of guilt and fear.
  6. The Road of Trials: After you resolve to continue on in your quest, you reach a point where you have learned all the game has to teach you. From this point on there are only trials and tribulations for the player.
  7. Atonement With the Father: Skipping the meeting with the goddess and the temptress (while they can be argued, there is no clear example of them), you have a plot-twisting conversation with the ghost, which I won’t spoil, but the step of the journey is emulated here, trust me.
  8. The Ultimate Boon: No the hero does not die, there is no apotheosis in A Man’s Quest, but you do get the ultimate boon, and I’m not going to say it a fourth time, but you can all probably guess what it is.

While many mainstream games can easily dedicate the proper resources to telling a hero’s tale, what ultimately wins over my favour in A Man’s Quest is its streamlined ability to give a powerful experience like that in the most minuscule of ways. There are noticeable advancements, such as when you acquire the Grip Gloves, but what carries more weight to the player is the environmental changes: your character sprite remains mostly the same the entire game, it is the backgrounds and scenery that change around you, emulating growth.

A Man’s Quest is an interesting project that I would recommend be played by studying designers; I myself wish there was more of it, as the end has a cloud of ‘that’s it?’ hanging overhead. Not because the experience was lacking in any severe aspects so much as it teased the player with a taste of something amazing, and then leaves them begging for more.

Drunk Devs’ game can be downloaded from Indie DB, here, or even played in the browser from their website.

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