In August 2008, a brilliant game was released. Initially appearing to be a simple platformer, the game soon revealed itself to be far more, turning the genre on its head. Pushing the boundaries of what could be done in gaming, its elegant design, user-friendly mechanics, and meaningful depth placed it firmly at the apex of modern games. Meanwhile, players and onlookers whispered at its hidden meaning and even went so far as to describe the game as “art.” That game is now available on Steam. That game, is Braid.
In December 2008, another game was released. Initially appearing to be a ludicrously simple platformer, the game promised depth and horror, with the catalyst for its design taken from Lovecraft: “Sounds – possibly musical – heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.” Failing to deliver either, the game’s frustrating design, agonizing mechanics, and meaningless vapidity made me long for a book with which to better occupy my time. Designed for the TIGSource Commonplace Book Competition, the game would subsequently be released as freeware, and, after a series of updated versions, several years later on Steam, where it is now available for just shy of $5. That game is eversion.
As is “cleverly” revealed by the Steam store product description you apparently are “Zee Tee,” a flower-esque Mario-clone. The “Princess of the Flower Kingdom” has been kidnapped by
goombas “Ghulibas of the north” and you, unfortunately, have to save her. The description goes on to warn that all may not be as it seems in the “Flower Kingdom,” and promises “secrets that will set you on edge.” This is further indicated by a screenshot of the Lovecraft quote and the game’s trailer which flashes quotes praising the game’s deceptive awesomeness, horror, and hidden scares. As you run and jump through the levels you are also for some reason tasked with collecting 240 gems which are necessary for achieving the first alternate ending, but which have no other bearing on the world.
The beginning of eversion appears to be the bastard product of an unholy coupling of Mario and Bejewled, until you eventually come upon certain, often arbitrarily chosen points in each level where, by pressing your “evert” key, you can move between one of seven eversion layers. Each of these layers is, perhaps, a jump forward in time or to another dimension, with the sappy-sweet world around you decaying and becoming overrun by demons. The music (one of the game’s few bright spots) darkens and warps sinisterly, the
goombas enemies transform from happy mushroom-like creatures to sharp-toothed monsters, cheap-thrill demon hands shriek upwards from holes to complicate your jumps, oncoming walls of blackness and fire force you to rush through levels, and blood sprays from your kills and repeated deaths.
Now this might sound like a lot of fun, and it really could be a great concept, however, it is instead one that is fully underutilized by this remarkably short and unsatisfying game. The game’s first (“bad”) ending can be reached by reaching the end of all seven levels, and can be accomplished in a quick half hour. To see the game’s “good” (and I use that term very loosely) ending, one must backtrack, collect all 240 gems in the game and then finish a final 8th level. However, even these extra objectives only extend the game’s life by maybe another two hours, with most of that time spent trying to luck your way through a handful of “puzzles” which you would find yourself in complete mastery of, if not for the hopelessness of trying to guide your clumsy, sloppy-feeling, corner catching Mario-clone though jumps designed, not to challenge the player, but to convince them never to waste their time on eversion again. Achieving the “good” ending does unlock a time attack mode, but given the horrendous feel of your avatar, and the absolute annoyance that is the core of most of its levels, there is no desire whatsoever to use the new mode. A third, secret ending is also available by using a series of jumps to complete a level while in a certain eversion layer. But really, none of these endings are worth the effort required to view them, and are further attempts of the game to waste your time.
The evert mechanic itself is poorly planned and underdeveloped. What could be an amazing way to explore the cataclysmic decay and devolution of a generic platform world, is instead used to arbitrarily remove an obstacle blocking your path. There are seven different layers, but each seems to make such a small change to the world that they are difficult to distinguish between. What could be really innovative changes to a Mario-esque world become instead simple binary pathway gates. Does the plant have foliage (impassable), thorns (impassable), or neither (yay). The first appearance of the pit-hands and walls of black/fire mentioned above are notable, but are then used repeatedly and, with rare exception, fail to scare, amuse, or do anything except make the play experience more unpleasant and frustrating than it already was. The concept of this central game mechanic is clearly derived from Braid, a similar indie game released just a few months prior, however, everting holds none of the charm or brilliance that the time-altering affects of Braid did. This is one of the game’s most disappointing failures, and it serves to really demonstrate the truly different strata in which these two games operate.
One of the main selling points of eversion, particularly evident in the manner in which is it described on Steam, is its “horror” elements. It quotes Lovecraft, warns that it is “Not suitable for children or those of a nervous disposition,” and features “Extra entertainment value when played alone at night.” To the typical game consumer this makes eversion appear to be an engaging horror experience building upon the style of a brilliant horror author, so unnerving as to carry a warning to stave off the infirm, and seems even to allude to elements perhaps akin to the legendary psychosis effects of Eternal Darkness. I can personally assure you that eversion features none of these things. The game is not frightening. My attention was momentarily seized when the first eversion layer appeared and the lead pit-hand snatched at me, but after which there was really nothing to see. In later levels, the ready screen that appears after deaths will begin to display different “scary” taunt messages, which mainly served to encourage me to quit playing the game, which by that point, I desperately wanted to do. The different endings make hackneyed attempts to frighten, but just served to bore. There certainly were not any special “alone at night” effects, nor any creative use of the system clock.
A few flashes of light reflected in toilet water:
The game’s “length ideal for busy videogame fans” (don’t patronize me), simplicity, and lack of actual horror content would make it perfect for kids, in spite the game’s warning. If only the game weren’t so painfully frustrating.
The game’s music was one of the few elements which really worked well, and scaled nicely with the eversion layers. Occasionally, it would become annoying when forced to listen to it while repeatedly dying, but that was not the music’s fault.
The ability to keep gems as soon as they were collected, even if you died immediately after nabbing them, was much appreciated, because you would often die immediately.
The first half of the game featured respawn points which were very well timed and placed. The second half of the game, which also featured the bulk of the annoying difficult time sink sections where you could really benefit from frequent respawn points, of course, did not.
The game granted infinite retries of levels, rather than a set number of lives. This was an absolute necessity, as the player dies very frequently.
As mentioned above, the game was initially released as freeware. There are only a handful of differences between the free version of the game and the Steam version. They include a graphics overhaul, better (and much needed) indication of eversion points, game controller support, and Steam achievements. One Steam achievement is awarded for collecting the eight letters, spelling out “eversion,” which are hidden in each level. This achievement, “Metaphor For The Atomic Bomb” makes a crack at the many, sometimes wild, interpretations of the meaning behind the cryptic Braid. eversion should have spent more time trying to emulate the dynamic gameplay and engaging world of Braid, and less time milking it for jokey critique and unrealized game mechanic. Despite the actual improvements included in the Steam version, they do not go far enough to justify spending money on a half-baked piece of freeware.