Vagueness and ambiguity can kill a videogame, and finding a balance between difficulty and incessant hand-holding is a challenge developers have faced for decades . Though it’s impossible to boil our medium down to a single common factor, it’s arguably fair to say that the “purpose” of a videogame is to engage in something slightly interactive, to experience something resembling narrative, mechanical or personal achievement/progress. Finding Teddy 2 boasts some utterly wonderful Metroid-vania gameplay, most of which is locked away behind some very dense meta-puzzles and tricky controls. Though it’s ultimately a flawed but charming gem of a game, Finding Teddy 2 has an unfortunate penchant for being one of the most meandering, befuddling games I’ve ever played, and I liked Proteus.
The original Finding Teddy was a point-and-click puzzle game, but its successor has taken up the mantle of of the Action-Adventure-Puzzle-Platformer. After an excruciatingly long and misspelled opening text scrawl which attempts to deliver heaps of contextual information via the dreaded exposition dump, we join a young girl, Tarrant (not Chris), and her floating Teddy. In an admittedly cute sequence, her games console cuts out, forcing her to leap to and all to real adventure beneath the basement in her house.
What follows is a game that is more than happy to bore you with unnecessary exposition, but is far less enthused with providing useful information later down the line.If Finding Teddy 2 began with the simple premise: “Girl leaves her house to embark upon cute, pixely adventure with lovable teddy bear”, it would actually benefit proceedings immensely. Instead, we’re encouraged to care about a convoluted, poorly conceived fantasy plot, all of which would be better left unsaid. If Finding Teddy 2 played up to its obvious Adventure Time influences more – i.e. throwing cute and disturbing elements at a wall in equal measure, sans context, and seeing what sticks – there’d be a more tangible reason to soldier on through the ambiguity and discover more about the world.
It’s all the more frustrating, because Finding Teddy 2‘s world is a genuine joy to occupy, at least on the surface. Character and environment designs are a delightful mixture of classic gaming iconography and more abstract Pen Ward-weirdness, all presented with some of the best pixel art I’ve seen in a considerable amount of time. The problem is, the game’s soothing blend of colourful, innocent pixel art and subtle synth drone tunes is completely at odds with its tendency towards dull backtracking and utterly obtuse puzzle solutions. Visually, the game pops with colour and youthful joy, but as a moment to moment experience, it’s a confusing and flustering mess.
Finding Teddy 2 just isn’t very good at combining puzzles with action elements and platforming, a pretty damning complaint to level at an action-adventure puzzle-platformer. Most enemies attack with the dedication and ferocity of a disinterested slug, and the game is full of areas filled with rickety collision detection, both for combat encounters and platforming. Though many combat issues have bee patched out extensively, the aforementioned niggles still remain, and they can really get in the way of the game’s finer, more subdued moments. Add to this the fact that FT2 is essentially a game about collecting and translating a fantasy language into musical notes, and you’ve got the recipe for an extremely frustrating few hours of “What does this mean?” and “Do I play this here?” For example: in one forested area, a group of cute, acorn-looking villagers sing musical notes at you, and you can use these notes/words to decipher the aforementioned language with your lexicon. Unfortunately, the acorn-people speak in pigeon English anyway, so their instructions to “Tell guardian please” are about as helpful as Yahoo! Answers.
If the game were to be paired down to smaller areas with a tighter focus on puzzle solving, Finding Teddy 2 would be endlessly more enjoyable. As it stands, puzzles are spread too thinly across a hundred or so areas, with no map to guide players through the ordeal. It’s all wet dream material for the Metroidvania faithful among us, but it’s exasperating for anybody who values tight design or a feeling of purpose in their games. The occasional spark of ingenuity – on the part of both designer and player – can lead to some incredibly satisfying moments of puzzle solving and lexicon deciphering, though the thinly spread nature of things makes for a game which ultimately outstays its welcome. A twenty hour game of backtracking and lexicon translating this did not need to be.
It’s a game with an infuriating amount of promise, squandered due to puzzling keybinding (L and P are “Jump” and “Attack” respectively, and the “Enter” command fluctuates between the Enter key and the L key seemingly at random), archaically cruel and unhelpful checkpoints (checkpoints seem to erase after exiting the game), as well as all too frequent bugs which prevent progression considerably. After the game had finally hooked me on its subtle “musical notes as language” premise, I was eager to keep exploring in spite of the previous three hours of forest-floundering. Unfortunately, I encountered a game breaking bug which rooted the camera away from Tarrant, so I could no longer see where I was going.
Apparently, the first player in the world to reach the game’s final boss fight achieved this feat well over a day after the game’s release. The fact that FT2‘s devs felt the need to publicize this information goes some way towards showing what an undertaking this game is. It’s a piece of entertainment that doesn’t want to be finished; game breaking bugs and crashes aside, its obfuscated nature makes it a treacherous journey reserved for only the bravest, most dedicated of players. When Finding Teddy 2 eventually finds its stride after 3/4 hours, it all feels worth the hard work, but only just.
I really wish I could love Finding Teddy 2. It’s a gorgeous game that’s so easy to get lost in, for better and for worse. After three hours of clueless scrambling, the game really comes into its own and delivers some thoroughly satisfying puzzles and exploration, and even throws some exciting, ambitious boss fights into the mix. It gets so close to being a great game, but its refusal to even hint at the player’s purpose/direction will render most of its magic unplayable to those who cannot withstand the troublesome opening.
Everyone is playing Bloodborne at the moment, but Finding Teddy 2 is about as disheartening a gaming experience I’ve ever come across, but only because it tries so hard to delay your enjoyment of it. Finding Teddy 2 is a smart, beautiful, maddening puzzle-platformer which achieves brilliance and mistakes in equal measure and a game I can recommend only for those with an intense, unhealthy love for Metroidvania throwbacks, and/or for those with the willpower to quit heroin cold turkey. You have been warned.