The avant-garde band Talking Heads once sang some profound lyrics – “We’re on a road to nowhere. Come on inside. Taking that ride to nowhere. We’ll take that ride”.
It’s this sentiment that can be used when describing the minimalist game that is Alveole. You see, two game developers Emil Ismaylov and Denis Petrov were asked to come up with a game in a conference based around the theme of “cage”, and that is where Alveole was spawned. But what does this mean? How do you sum this up? Well, it is my mission to try and describe what this little indie game is all about.
It’s important that games have the chance to experiment with form, style, narrative, and visuals, especially in the currently crowded marketplace. Just as it is for books, films, and TV. Alveole is a strange game though, unlike anything you’d have played before. Yet it is something which is very compelling to play.
The game is described as a minimalist puzzler where the player must understand how to run and why he must do it. Confused? Don’t be, the premise is quite simple but understanding it that can be the tricky part. That’s if you ever get to understand it because it’s certainly out there for interpretation and the themes of the game are not linear, but rather symbolic of our struggle as human beings.
A man appears from nothing and stands in what can only be described as a hamster wheel. You have no instructions but above the wheel are some drawings of objects and items. A pair of spectacles, a cat’s face, some mountains and a shark’s fin are just some of the things on offer. To the left and right of the cage are some blank spaces that need to be filled in with something; sitting like the unfilled spaces of a sticker book. What you need to do is try and fill these spaces with the items seen above. How does this happen? Well, you just run.
What you need to do is make the man run with one button, and this sends him off on his way round the wheel. During the cycle, seven spiky obstacles will appear which the man can either jump or trip over. After the seventh obstacle disappears, the wheel slows down and the cycle ends. The man is reborn and the cycle starts again.
What you need to do is work out from these actions the different combinations required to unlock all the stickers. Now I’m only going to give you one example to avoid spoiling what Alveole can produce, but there is a drawing of a heart shaped necklace with a couple of shards missing. This shows you which obstacle to jump over and which one to trip over to get the sticker. Other combinations are easy to work out, like what happens if you jump them all or what happens if you trip over them all. Getting them all is hard to action, but weirdly compulsive.
The whole cycle only takes about three minutes, so you certainly won’t feel like you are wasting your time by trying all the combinations known to man. And when you do have all the combinations then the game is complete, pushing out the most interesting ending to a game that I’ve seen for a long time. Don’t expect some dramatic finale, but it is something that has stayed with me.
The visuals of Alveole are of a delightful hand-drawn quality, coming across as a sort of pencil drawing that you might animate by flicking the pages of a book. It works very well and watching the man running in the wheel becomes pretty hypnotic after a while. The game has a wonderful piano score running underneath it and this is nicely composed and very relaxing on the ears. It also works perfectly within the game’s premise. It’s quite simple in terms of effects though, with a camera shutter appearing where you complete and capture a sticker.
Alveole is a short game, but it is also a worthwhile experiment in game development and abstract narratives. The actual gameplay – running and jumping in short cycles – might put many off, I’m sure it won’t be right for everyone’s tastes and I do think that this would work much better as a mobile game rather than on console, letting you dip into it every now and then. At the end of the day though, Alveole will take you under an hour to complete and that’s perfectly reasonable for the cheap price being asked. And whilst I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with the game, I have to admit that I’m a big fan of experimental games; I fear others might not buy into it as much.
Run to the Xbox Store and pick up Alveole on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S