Monday, 20 March 2017 00:00

The Final Specimen: Arrival Review

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The Final Specimen: Arrival (FS:A) is advertised as “a comedic sci-fi adventure game in the style of the classic 2D platformers of the '90s.” It’s easy to see the influences of Sonic, Mario, and perhaps Donkey Kong Country, in this indie title, yet without the flashy details of a big studio. In fact, if anything could be said about FS:A -  it comes exactly as advertised.

The narrative arch is flat.

The plot of FS:A is so simple and inconsequential that it couldn’t really be spoiled. Aliens are collecting a final specimen: that’s all you really need to care about. After a strange meteor shower, Thomas, the protagonist, finds himself in an intergalactic highway of tubes, which kicks off his nonstop adventure through various strange settings. The focus here is on gameplay and quirky deaths – and you will die a lot.

So commenceth the annoying deaths.

There are no introductory levels to ease you into the mechanics. You are just thrown into situations, and you need to react. Again, this is reminiscent of early platformers: you just have to try things and die repeatedly until you get it right. [EN: As @Grace would say, you have to "die" your way to victory.] The maze of tubes in the opening level involves enemies flying past that you have to guess how to kill, several blind turns that simply end in spikes, and no stated objective or destination. Slowly, you figure out that the green things are checkpoints, you punch switches to keep advancing, and if you lose all your lives, you have to start the entire level again. Also, in the classic arcade style, there is no way to save the game (although this is to be fixed in the first patch).

The mechanics are simple and clean.

There is a button to punch, one to jump, one to throw bombs. That’s it. Most of the game mechanics come from jumping onto objects (swinging ropes, disappearing platforms, etc.) or trying to figure out how to defeat or avoid enemies. There are some very clever variations in this regard, but you may find yourself restarting an entire level trying to figure out how to get past one section.

For example, there is one part in the third level where, if you are not quick enough, you will be shot, through a relay of tubes with a confusing number of arrows on them, into a pit that causes instant death. If the checkpoint were right before this section, you might be able to run through a few times and quickly figure it out. But, there is a whole swath of level to play through each and every time, resetting your rhythm, and finally ending in the tubes and your inevitable death once again. Losing all your progress with a game over after doing this about nine times might be enough to induce a rage quit.

For those seeking a nostalgic experience, this is reminiscent of notoriously hard games like Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, with the difference being a lack of rich game mechanics to keep you interested and balance out your inevitable frustration at the difficulty. Thomas never changes, never gets any upgrades; his deaths go from quaint to tiring in short order.
That being said, the simplicity of the game means there are very few glitches. There is only one I noticed with swinging tree branches, where it's sometimes difficult to get Thomas to jump off, but I remember this being a problem in Donkey Kong Country, so it is forgivable, regardless.

The game is aesthetically solid, but unremarkable

The artwork for this game looks like it was done in Microsoft Paint, though that is definitely part of the overall look - and it works well. It does seem like something you would find on Newgrounds rather than Steam, however. Additionally, the music is pretty good for an indie game, and the one-man voice acting is respectable. Some of Thomas’s death sounds are reminiscent of South Park, in a funny way. Humor is subjective, but I personally didn’t laugh out loud at any point. At most, I "heh'ed." A gravedigger smashes you with a shovel, sending you flying. Fun, but five minutes later, you've had your fill of gravediggers.


The Verdict

Final Specimen: Arrival did not take any risks with plot. It is, mechanically, a platformer, reminiscent of the 90s, and if that’s what you love, then you should play it. But, nothing new or special is presented. Thomas, for his part, promises to repeatedly die in every funny way imaginable, and that is exactly what you get from this game. That's exactly what you'd get from watching the trailer, too.

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Nicholas Barkdull

Nic is a writer and narrative designer with a PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. He thinks real time strategy games are still a valid form of e-sport, that true RPGs should be turn-based (with huge casts of characters), and that AAA games have a long way to go before they earn back our trust. He is the Lead Writer for Pathea Games's My Time at Sandrock, and his work can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, The Daily Beast, and many other places.