I’ve been reviewing and criticizing games for about a year and half now, and more often than not a game’s value can (unfortunately) be quantified numerically or based on a distinct set of values and principles. Does the game look good? Does it sound good? Does it play well? Does it hold significant meaning, be it emotional or mechanical? While I often gravitate towards the stranger games that are released throughout the year, these principles and values still usually apply.
As you can probably guess from its typically subversive (and annoying to write) title, Continue?9876543210 doesn’t really follow said rules. Instead it presents an odd amalgamation of different genres, stories, metaphors and quirks. Not all of them work (arguably not all of them are meant to), but all of them are at least interesting to experience and ponder as they are played out.
On the surface, Continue? is pretty simple. You are a dead videogame character exploring their post-mortal life in order to find some sense of meaning or purpose before they are inevitably deleted form the game’s files. In order to do this, the player must first navigate a small, randomly selected sandbox environment, each of which adheres to a specific location (bar/prison etc.) in order to convey its specific theme. Periodically throughout these environments, the player will then be sucked into a more combat oriented location – these could be dungeons, 2-D platforming sections or even space invaders-esque segments – where they can earn keys to unlock otherwise locked doors in the base sandbox environment. All of this leads up to the game’s eventual “Garbage Collection”, wherein the player must take refuge from lightning storms in designated shelters of varying strength in yet another hub world; this time a sort of survival, wave-based mode. By completing action sections, conversing with NPCs, memorizing important information, and completing fairly arbitrary fetch quests, one can then choose between two important options: “My Lightning” or “My Prayer”. Here’s where things get even weirder.
By choosing “My Lightning”, the player calls forth lightning to randomly strike obstacles that are blocking the exits to the sandbox are – failure to escape the area before the final action sequence will result in game over. By choosing “My Prayer”, extra shelters are added to the “Garbage Collection” area, making survival a more likely outcome. Mechanically, everything on offer works, but isn’t particularly spectacular. This is undoubtedly because each gameplay vignette serves as an odd commentary on how arbitrary most gameplay mechanics are when compared to the real world events they are supposed to represent. There is also a fair amount of commentary on offer about the fleetingness of an avatar’s life, as well as the lives of the people who they might represent.
In the case of the sandbox sections, the game felt like it was plodding along at a snail’s pace, never really interesting or engaging me. NPCs would often ramble on about nothing, spewing existential drivel in an attempt to injure my space bar pressing finger. Once I had exited these conversations, though, I realized how vague and nonsensical most NPC dialogue is anyway, particularly in open world games like Skyrim. During some of the action based sections, however, things picked up considerably and resembled something intense and exciting. But it was during these section that I realized something else; what is this person on the screen really doing? Why would dodging and shooting these floating teeth help him achieve his goals? Why would it help me in the grand scheme of things?
These types of learning experiences are the main reason to play Continue?. Just as important, though, are the times when these metaphors and images just don’t click; the times when the game feels a little too satisfied with its own conceit. While some of the game’s messages take on a cringe-worthy, Dear Esther-esque level of “depth”, they never take away from the messages the game conveys with much more grace and nuance. It’s also quite possibly I had a completely different take on these messages than others might. Yes, it’s one of those games.
Thankfully, this giant existential metaphor is wrapped inside some great TRON-meets-Minecraft visuals, and is accompanied by a minimalistic, electro/classical score that achieves the right levels of ambient, shoe-gazing melancholy.
Truth be told, it’s hard to even assign Continue? a score. It’s fairly short, very confusing, and does little to teach the player how to progress, and it can often feel like a mad dash between frustrated boredom and hyper-active excitement. But then, life is rather like that; fairly short, very confusing, doing little to teach the player how to progress, and can often feel like a mad dash between frustrated boredom and hyper-active excitement. People say art is best when it reflects a mirror on our lives, warts and all. In its own confusing and roundabout way, Continue? does exactly that.
If all you want is a good time playing something mechanically solid, avoid Continue?9876543210. Jason Oda has created a perplexing game which asks us to question the very nature of life, as well as the nature of our favourite hobby. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it leaves you with a lingering desire for self-reflection. Continue? isn’t perfect; it might not even be fun, but I for one am very glad it exists.