One of the pitfalls of making art is that sometimes ambitions surpass content. When this happens to a piece, the work becomes just another project that failed to live up to its potential. Sententia is one of these works.
Released as part of the Indie Games Uprising III promotion and developed by Michael Hicks, Sententia is a 2D platformer with a puzzle element that has high thematic ideals but lacks the mechanical competency to either support those ideas or be worth playing as a game by itself. The game starts outside of some hut where players are placed in the shoes of a young boy talking to his grandfather. The grandfather waxes rhapsodic about imagination, youth, and creation, and also provides a tutorial to players.
The grandpa shows players how to use words as weapons that shoot forth from the boy and can be used to take out enemies. Holding the speak button creates stronger words and can even be used to block opponents words. It’s an interesting way to frame the basic system of projectiles, particularly when the idea of thinking before you speak comes up as a way to talk about charging up the projectiles, but too many problems arise in the rest of the mechanics to make this any more than a novelty.
Moving around is easily the most frustrating mechanic in the game. Players move left to right across screens Pitfall style, with each screen following a fairly regular pattern of platforming then a puzzle screen. The actual platform design isn’t bad- in fact it’s rather standard. Platforms will be split up across a screen with some holding enemies, others being empty and smaller ones falling down once the player lands on it. The tension arises from the fact that controlling the character is a terrible experience. It’s a stiff, slow affair that has no redeeming qualities about it. It asks for a precision in accuracy and timing while making players fight against the controls. If nothing else, its failure serves as a reminder to how badly platforming and basic movement can be screwed up.
The last system is the logic-based, connect the dots puzzles that act as barriers to progressing forward. When the character approaches the puzzles, he activates his imagination and players highlight nodes that float over a gap. Players then connect the nodes to create a bridge that allows the character to pass. The challenge comes from each node having a number of ticks on it that indicate how many other nodes it can be connected to. It’s all rather simple, and while the the themes of creation and imagination provide fertile ground, the puzzles end up being rote and dull.
Aesthetically, the music is decent. The solo piano playing slow, twinkling notes give off the impression of pretension, but is actually quite nice. The game’s visuals fit the theme of a child’s experience and have a hand drawn, amateurish quality to them. For what it’s worth, the art doesn’t obscure anything about the gameplay.
While lofty goals are an admirable quality in a medium whose main expression seems to be violence, the marriage of those goals to mechanics are a necessary connection. Sententia does not accomplish this, and is best passed up for any other dozens titles that do.
+ Appropriate music
+ Art that fits themes
- Terrible platforming controls
- Puzzles become dull quickly
- Combat system is hindered by the rest of the game
- Lack of connection between theme and mechanics
1 (RIP) to 4 are varying degrees of a bad game. A 1 (RIP) being a game you would actually pay money to not play, and a 4 is something that just barely fails to be mediocre.
Sententia was developed and published by Michael Hicks. It’s available on XBLIG for 80 MSP ($1). A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.