Continue?9876543210 Review: Exploring Digital Purgatory

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Price: $5.99
System(s): PC, Mac, IOS
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Jason Oda (Jason Oda)
ESRB Rating: Unrated

Jason Oda may not be the most recognizable name in video games, but you may very well recognize his work, from such games as the trippy Perfect Strangers game Nothings Gonna Stop Me Now or the even more trippy Legend of Zelda tribute Skrillex Quest. His newest game Continue?9876543210 is also pretty trippy. It’s also pretty great.

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From Humble Beginnings

The basic premise of Continue?9876543210 is that you are a player sprite in a game that has just died. You find yourself in the digital purgatory of unused RAM awaiting the coming of the game’s Garbage Collection function to run and clear out the block of RAM you find yourself in, thereby ending your existence. You spend the game essentially trying to outrun the inevitable, your goal not to survive, but rather to find peace in death. It’s a dark game.

Mechanically, Continue?9876543210 is an action/puzzle game. There is some light action, but the core of the game is solving the various riddles thrown at you by the denizens of this dying world. The game is never overtly challenging, however getting a “good” ending can be, at least until you’ve played through a few times and worked out the process. Which, BTW is one of the best parts of the game: Continue?9876543210 actually expects the player to figure out for themselves what do. There’s a “help” screen that’s a bit vague, and other hints strewn about the game, but never does it outright hold your hand and tell you what to do. The process of working it all out is a welcome throwback in modern game design.

I don’t want to give too much away by explaining it all, but in Continue?9876543210  you essentially need to collect “prayers” which you will need at endgame, or “lightning” which you need to exit the current level. Rather than dying, when you run out of health you have to choose to give up currency (which you’ll need) or prayers. It’s a feeling of genuine sacrifice with ever dire consequences. I know this all sounds a bit vague, but giving up all the details would ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself.

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Digital Art

In terms of graphics, Continue?9876543210 is, well unimpressive. The graphics are extremely simple. Think Minecraft. Thing is, this is a good thing. The visual style is not only befitting of the game’s premise, but executed in such a way that it lends substantial weight to the oppressive atmosphere. The blocky-ness actually feels fairly creepy at times. Don’t let first impressions fool you, the graphics just work.

The same can be said for the sound in Continue?9876543210: very basic and sparse both musically and in the effects department. There is nothing superfluous; sound is used to build atmosphere and evoke certain emotions. Nothing more, nothing less, there really isn’t much to talk about here, aside from the fact that sound is used very well in this game.

The controls are something that certainly bear mentioning: the controls in Continue?9876543210 are terrible. Simply walking around accurately with the weird, floaty controls can be a challenge, let alone combat. Yet, despite being atrocious, they’re also perfect. A juxtaposition I know, but just trust me. Feeling slightly out of control of your character, trying desperately to dodge, or line up a hit, or even so much as duck into a doorway quickly, adds a certain sense of desperation to the whole affair. Things that should be simple are made needlessly difficult, lending a feeling of being in a nightmare. It fits the overall vibe of the game perfectly.

Let’s talk about that vibe a bit, shall we? Continue?9876543210 has atmosphere to spare. I’m not sure how, but somehow Jason Oda has managed to create the most oppressive, dark atmosphere I have ever felt in a game. The impending sense of doom is ever pervasive. Part of it is the timer: you know the levels are timed, but you don’t get to see the timer. You are always running from death – a fitting metaphor. Part of it is the enemies. They are essentially the digital incarnation of Stephen King’s Langoliers, as they’re ever present, ever pursuing. Part of it is the way the world is represented: Scattered, seemingly random remnants of previous levels in the game the player character comes from: Filled with the ghosts of their previous residents, in blocky, nondescript form, these worlds continually becoming more and more corrupted as the Garbage Collector does its thing clearing out the unneeded data, leaving nothingness in its wake.

Digital oblivion is inevitable in Continue?9876543210, what matters is how you embrace it. The game tends to get under your skin a bit the more you play it. The philosophical explorations and metaphors can get rather uncomfortable at times. Jason Oda did a terrific job of making you think about things you otherwise would prefer to avoid. The presentation has a disjointed, chaotic Dear Esther feeling that only coalesces through multiple play-throughs. You can “finish” the game in only a few minutes really, but you need to play it multiple times to get the most out of it. Each time you will be assigned a random player sprite, and will visit random levels. Getting a “good” ending will take a concerted effort across multiple plays, but as you do, the random, disjointed chaotic mess begins to make sense. Or at least I think it does, maybe it just drove me insane and I’m imagining things.

The only real complaint I have is that the drawn out, un-skippable cut scenes that at first are utterly fascinating get tiresome after the 4th or 5th time through. In fact it will get to the point that each time through you literally spend as much, if not more, time watching these as you do actually playing.

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My lightning, My prayer

Aside from that, Continue?9876543210 is an awesome game. It probably takes a certain kind of player to really appreciate how cerebral it is, but for those who can, the it’s astounding. I have never had a game evoke the thoughts and feelings that Jason Oda pulled out of me in my time with Continue?9876543210. I almost find myself not wanting to play the game anymore, not because it is a bad game, but because of the way it gets into my head. As both a unique look into what happens to video game characters after they run out of lives, and an exploration of your own inescapable mortality, Continue?9876543210 is a compelling example of video games as an art form.

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  • Jason Oda

    From the developer: Thank you very much for the glowing review! Just a note: The reviewed version above was 1.2. The current version 1.3 has the control issues mentioned above corrected. Hope you enjoy the game!

  • dusty

    Great review for a great game. Must say I agree with the issue he had with the repetitive cut scenes though. A skip or “wake up” button would be handy.