Rarely, you come across a game that really leaves a mark on you. Maybe it was a childhood favorite, something you played for hours when you had nothing better to do (besides your homework.) Maybe it was your first experience with a big, open world, or an in-depth story that really drew you into the game's universe. Maybe it was the kind of game you'd end up playing for hours, not even realizing how much time you've spent until you glanced at the clock. Maybe it was the kind of game you'd pick up in 15-minute stretches, whiling away your time on public transit as you made your best attempts to ignore the seething mass of humanity currently impinging on your personal space. Maybe it was an anomaly; an outlier. Something that stands alone even now; a well-loved, well scrutinized and irreplicable oddity turned out by some mad, coffee-powered genius at 3 am in a damp basement. Or maybe it was one of those games that everyone just knows is a big deal when it comes out. It lands in the market with a big, weighty sploosh, like a sumo wrestler belly-flopping into a swimming pool. Everyone respects its presence, lest they be slapped with the heaving man-tits of justice.
Whatever kind of game it was--and there were probably many in your life--each one persists in your memory for some reason or another. They hold a special place in your heart, and occupy precious space in your memory banks next to grandma's baking and the time you shat yourself in second grade.
I knew, at some point within the first hour, that Undertale would one of those games. Why? Well, you see, dear reader... I'm not going to tell you.
Hold on, friend, don't switch tabs to a compilation of people dying in car accidents just yet; there's a reason why I'm not giving this game a proper review.
No, that reason isn't "because I'm lazy."
Considering my track record, though, that's not a bad guess.
The reason I'm not going over this game with a fine-toothed comb because I want you to go into it with as few expectations as possible. The feeling of discovery--the pure, unadulterated sense of not knowing what will happen next--is rare in gaming. With the internet, and hence, a million spoilers at your fingertips, it's hard to stumble into anything blind. Even if you sequester yourself into a Luddite-esque technological dead zone, you still know, to a certain degree, what you're getting yourself into when you pick up any given game. Shooters will be shooters. Ubisoft games will have the sort of baffling glitches that arise when a game is developed in three weeks. The next Call of Duty will have even more patriotic cock stroking than the last game, somehow. Racing games will be ruined by small children and stupid adults who think that the ass end of your car serves as an alternative braking function. RPG franchises will be the same as the last one, but different enough that nobody complains. Sonic will probably be disappointing, and Mario probably will not. Battlefield will be a fucking mess until you download 5 gigabytes worth of updates. A Telltale or Bioware game will include at least one dialogue option that does something wildly different than what you imagined. It will also be a critical choice that results in someone getting eaten, shot, or punched in the face.
You get the idea. We all have preconceived notions based on the genre, or the developer, or the publisher, or the series, or even the box art. Most of the time, those preconceived notions are correct. I mean, hey, we've been wasting our lives on these things for years, right? It's hard not to notice trends. Triple-A games rarely surprise, and when they do, it's the bad sort of surprise.
Unless you wanted Assassin's Creed to branch out into horror, that is.
Indie games are more adept at providing novel experiences, to be sure. While the unadulterated market that gives us all those wonderful indies also floods us with boatloads of nearly unplayable and/or terrifying shit, the gems that arise from the muck of OH GOD PLEASE HELP ME are worth it. Like Undertale. Undertale is so, so worth it.
Undertale is the kind of game that to review beyond the most generic of comments is to spoil. The visuals are intentionally retro, but charming. The music is great. The story took me up and down the whole range of emotions, sometimes going from one extreme to the other with the ease of a fat guy on a Harley who somehow doesn't crash even though he's using both hands to scratch his balls instead of steer. The characters are the heart of the game, and they're wonderfully written. The mix of low encounter rates and unique, fun combat FINALLY makes for a turn-based RPG that doesn't feel like a chore to play between story bits. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me wonder when I was going to experience something like it again.
So this isn't a very good review, or even a good post. It falls under the sort of heaping praise that I usually find hard to take seriously. Believe me, I get it. I know what you want; you want the same thing I want before I dive into any game. You want a look at the mechanics, the gameplay, of the way things work. A hint of how the story will be told. A weighing of positives and negatives. But you have to understand, it's best if I tell you nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a fucking thing. You should experience it--every little glorious bit of it--for yourself. You just have to trust me on this, as I trusted the friend who recommended it to me. You deserve to go into this thing blind, whether you enjoy it as much as I did or not.
Harken back to the pre-internet days, where your only sources of gaming news were your friends and the occasional monthly magazine. Imagine you see a game in the local shop that catches your eye. You've never heard of it before; nothing about it rings any bells of recognition. It is an unknown quantity, and thus, a dangerous thing to drop your cash on. Still, it attracts your attention. You can't tell exactly why--something about the cover, or maybe it's the box blurb. Whatever it is, you get a feeling, stirring somewhere inside you, that this is going to be an experience worth your money. What the hell, you decide. Why not? So you buy it, shoving your grubby little kid hands into your pocket and plunking a wad of cash on the counter. Take it home. Eagerly open the case, greedy fingers ripping the safety plastic with what would be considered reckless abandon if anybody ever gave a shit about that cockblocking pseudo-saran wrap. You gingerly, yet eagerly, place the game into whichever receptacle it belongs in. Finally, you turn it on. You're headed into the complete unknown, and everything after the familiar whir of a disc in the tray, the thunk of a cartridge in the slot, or the chime of a boot jingle will be a surprise.
Enjoy that feeling of discovery again for me, will you?