Arguably the first open world adventure video game ever created was “Adventure” on the Atari 2600 in 1980, where players took control of a single block as the protagonist and navigated their way through a vague quest complete with dragons and secrets. In fact, it is deemed as the first video game to include a secret room as an Easter egg. By today’s gaming standards you’d probably wonder what the fuss was about, and yet there is still something remarkable about using limited technology and assets to create an imaginative fantasy world. Of course, back in 1980 gamers would have to use their own imagination for the most part as they didn’t have the epic million-polygon set-pieces we now take for granted in modern gaming, but that was part of the magic and charm of gaming in yesteryear.
Relatively new indie developer Khud0 brings us Grizzland, an open-world adventure that is minimalist in its visuals but certainly not in its gameplay ideas and lore presentation. There is no real premise or setup to the game world as you start out, but as you navigate the world and interact with its locations and NPCs you learn bits and pieces; yet it still remains largely vague and mysterious. A vague narrative with no real sense of direction for the quest makes the experience similar to early RPGs from the 1980s, but that’s what you sign up for when you pick up Grizzland. The dialogue and writing can be whimsically mysterious… and the text speed can be painfully slow.
Just as you’re thrust into this world the adventure ahead comes across as a bit of trial and error, where the controls are usually responsive but understandably retro. Early on you pick up a sword and search for the ability to jump, and from there on it’s clear that this is meant to be a Metroidvania style quest where new abilities learned later on can be used to access earlier areas, which means a fair bit of backtracking.
Given the vague nature of the quest, it is quite easy to lose your way and literally get stuck between a rock and hard place. Some might call it poor level design in the first instance, but these dead ends are deliberate since the game lets you initiate a “self-destruct” from the pause menu to send you back to the last save point – of which there are many. It’s a fast-paced quest for sure, so restarting at checkpoints doesn’t waste your time too much.
Combat is very much on the clumsy and cumbersome side, where the hit detection feels very much off. This is especially in close-quarters situations but it gets a little better once you pick up ranged weapons. It’s a neat little experience in fact, but often feels like an idea that has been developed at the most basic of levels.
The presentation of the game is generally interesting: classic monochrome graphical visuals with 2-bit style pixel art. There are a few neat graphical effects here and there which the older Atari models most certainly could not have pulled off, but overall the visual presentation is a bit of an acquired taste.
Grizzland on Xbox One won’t set you back a whole lot with its modest asking price, so really it’s an acquired taste that a certain type of gamers will self-select into. If you’re old enough to remember playing Adventure on the Atari as a child, or are after an alternative and minimalist Metroidvania adventure, then Grizzland might be worth a look.