DontNod Entertainment is getting a lot of lovin’ from me right now; I’m in the midst of playing through Vampyr, and this week The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit released. Taking a break from the bleak streets of war-torn London, I decided to give Captain Spirit a go!
Details follow. Lots of them. RED ALERT, RED ALERT, SPOILERS AHEAD. Captain Spirit isn’t exactly a game you can play and review without a few spoilers! You’ve been warned, mon frere.
So, Captain Spirit is a Life is Strange spin-off that takes place in the same universe. You play as Chris Eriksen, a ten-year-old boy who also happens to be a superhero. Now, Chris isn’t the kind of superhero you expect from that sentence; no radioactive spider who bites, no Weapon X program, no alien planet destruction involved. He’s an ordinary kid in an ordinary life in Beaver Creek, Oregon, who uses his imagination to deal with the heavy life he leads.
After the tragic death of his mother, Chris lives only with his father, who has turned from a bright, loving father into a heavy drinker (and an abusive person, as the game carefully illustrates.) It is through Chris’ actions that you realize the brevity of his situation; he cleans up his father’s beer cans. He does dishes and laundry as his slam-drunk ex-basketball player dad watches the big game, and deals as well-- and as awkwardly-- with the situation as a ten year-old could. He is isolated even from his mother’s remaining family, along with the rest of the world.
But his sadness dissolves as he delves into his imagined world: Captain Spirit is a kind and hearty superhero, and is up to any challenge!
The game itself has you learning all you can about Chris while you ready yourself for a big superhero Saturday. You’ll build Captain Spirit’s costume, practice your aim, rally your squad, and beat up a few bad guys along the way (and play Mustard Party 2 on your dad’s phone… which involves that gaht dang HAWTDAWG character that permeates the franchise. It’s only slightly less irritating than QWOP. Just kidding, QWOP is a merciless death, while MP2 is like Prince of Persia on NES- not significantly better but if you time it right, you won’t die constantly. lol.)
During these interactions, you learn about Chris’ parents: his mother, an artist who attended the infamous Blackwell Academy, and her high school sweetheart, a basketball player with amazing prospects. Despite separating to do their own things in the world, the two came back together in their tiny hometown to start a life and family. Thing seem fine in the in-between moments, but it all comes crashing down when Chris’ mother is killed in a hit-and-run car accident. You’ll also learn that many people have tried reaching out to Chris and his father as support, but they are all ultimately turned down and tuned out-- this includes the fact that his father has apparently been seeing another woman, who begs to meet Chris in a letter you find.
It’s all heartbreaking. And ultra-realistic to many people’s situations. After all, his father shows moments of tenderness and ultimately does seem to care, but let’s face it: those are not erasers of abuse. It does, however, show the internal conflict is father suffers because of it.
But when it’s time to be a hero, Captain Spirit is there! In well-timed and imaginative cutscenes, Chris confronts his fears and grief as battles with his arch-enemies Mantroid and Snowmancer. While Snowmancer is the well-weaponed snowman in the backyard, Mantroid is something more; Chris’ mother was killed at the intersection of Mantle St and Asteroid Drive- the bent signs look like they say “Mantroid.”
Boy oh boy, do I applaud DontNod for this.
It’s masterful to take grief and give it persona-- especially one that a hero strives to fight. And the way the game does it is so quiet, so small, that if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it.
The episode ends shortly after completing all your Captain Spirit missions (which are apparently largely optional, but I did them all), with a very telling cutscene. It ends on a cliffhanger, ready to lead you into Life is Strange 2 in September, where Chris’ story will collide with the ongoing tale of Arcadia Bay. As DontNod says:
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is not Life is Strange 2, but it does connect to it in multiple ways. This is the first step into the diverse world of Life is Strange beyond Arcadia Bay where you will find secrets and hints as to what to expect in Life is Strange 2. In addition to this, choices & actions you make in Captain Spirit will carry over to Life is Strange 2.
Yep, it’s a Pre-Sequel Spin-Off Side-Quest of a thing. And damn good marketing on DontNod’s part.
Now that we’ve munched on the story, let’s get to the technical!
The graphics for The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit are improved from the original Life is Strange, and even Beyond the Storm; they’re crisp and vibrant, and environments are well-rendered.
The game forces you to take it slow… literally. If there’s a run button in this, my controller doesn’t have it. I won’t deny getting irritated at sloooooooooooowwwwly walking through his yard for the tenth time. But that’s okay-- it (mostly) adds to the story, keeping the pace with a young kid and his leisurely Saturday.
Controls-wise, little has changed from the Life is Strange formula; there are specific ways to interact with objects and people, each of them laid out as its own button. Some items take Look before they’re interactable, though, so take your time!
Oh, and the soundtrack is amazing. Which it is with every Life is Strange game. SO GOOD.
I didn’t know what to expect from Captain Spirit, but it wasn’t this. I say that in a good way; the heavy feelings of loss are balanced with Chris’ bright and imaginative world. His story parallels that of Chloe from Life is Strange, so I’m intrigued to know how it’ll play out later. All in all, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a nostalgic stroll through childhood, mixed with the myriad emotions that loss of a loved one brings. It’s a quick tale, but it manages to bring a lot of information about the story we’re jumping into next. With no achievements/trophies to bog you down, you focus solely on the story. Bonus: it’s free! If you enjoy the Life is Strange series, grab this and give it a go… and hope it holds you off until September. You’ll want to know what happens next.