What do you get when you cross old-school Asteroids, bullet-time effects, boss fights, and biblical overtones? The David game is what you get, a delightful indie title by Fermenter, originally released last year and now available on Steam for PC and Mac players.
As with many minimalist and abstract games, this is not a book to judge by its cover. Yes, you play a heroic square who bravely fights evil triangles and other geometric shapes in a series of boss fights, but David's smooth-yet-intricate gameplay and carefully crafted atmosphere bring these simple shapes to life—imbuing them with heroic and frightful qualities. If you’re like me and have a fond nostalgia for the pixelated graphics and basic physics of old games like Asteroids and Breakout, you’ll find the visuals and mechanics of David delightful and perfectly appropriate.
Atmosphere is Everything
The atmosphere of the David game, much like the gameplay, is done with minimal strokes to great effect. From the start you are told that “There is evil” but that you, David the mighty square, have been put here on purpose and “must use your gift to confront the evil of this world.” The gift this omniscient narrator refers to is your ability to slow time and fire a slingshot-like weapon of particles at the bad guys who are trying to bum rush you with their pokey bits. This time-slowing weapon-charging mechanic allows you to maneuver with greatly enhanced agility to evade your enemies and destroy them. Getting familiar with this ability is the central learning curve of the game, and if you don’t use it wisely and often, you will be obliterated by angry geometry very quickly.
Underlining the minimalist graphics and your neat chargin’-mah-lazer ability is a dreamy 8-bit soundtrack that makes you think of outer space and original Nintendo boss-fight scores. One of the standout features of the David game’s sound design is that when you activate your special ability and time slows, so does the background music. This gives David’s “gift” a visceral, awesome feel, and makes the effective soundtrack of the game a chopped-and-screwed version of the 8-bit music, since you are using the ability all the time. The end result is trippy, epic, and fun.
Short, Sweet, and Just Challenging Enough
As the developers say in the game’s description, “This game is designed to be difficult...I hope it feels strangely personal.” After playing through the game on both difficulty levels (which doesn’t take all that long), I think they pretty much nailed it. I really enjoyed the experience of feeling overwhelmed by the difficulty at first, and then rapidly learning how to master David’s gift to great effect. Keep in mind this is a short game by a small team, so expect the challenge and the content to only last so long. For its scale, I found the challenge to be just right for a satisfying experience across the whole spectrum of “omg I suck” to “I am a god among squares.”
The “strangely personal” aspect is also spot-on. The music, gameplay, and short-but-profound bits of text fill the whole experience with a sense that your geometry battles are metaphors for fighting inner demons and making sense of the world. Sounds strange, I know, but you gotta try it to experience it for yourself. I look forward to loading up the David game any time I feel the need to be a badass little square in an alternate reality, bending time like Neo and taking on whatever the world throws at me.