Lover of pretty computer worlds and garbled alienspeak, Manchester-based artist Strangethink has released yet another small videogame to distract us from his larger project, Days of the Electric Sky.
To look at it, Abstract Ritual has all of the bizarre components that I’ve come to expect from Strangethink. I look up and see a sky of psychedelic zebra skin patterns swirling slowly, like a witch’s deadly broth burping in a cauldron. I look across and see a compact brutalist labyrinth of towers, some topped with huge gems, all of them connected by a pollution of thin ramps.
Inside are hollowed stairwells and long drops that challenge your climbing skills and balance. There are also important alien beings standing stiff in regal cloaks made of vibrant Rorshach print in these towers. Outside again and behind me is a vacant expanse of melting purple glaciers in abstract form; the sludgy wastelands of this alien cultivation.
Being able to pre-empt what is becoming its creator’s signature style makes Abstract Ritual no less mysterious. For, while its dressing is familiar (and entrancing), this is a game about uncovering the entrance to a secret world. Even if you don’t know of this motive before heading into the game, it’ll soon emerge as you appease the curiousities that force themselves into your brain once you enter this world: What’s that in the distance? What are those hypnotic crystals for? What happens if I fall off the edge of this island?
Once your eyes and heart is content with preliminary exploration, you’ll find yourself ensnared by an empirical investigation, flinging your nimble body across the zig-zagging ramps to find the cloaked beings stood inside. They’ll talk unwillingly, offering only riddles regarding the method upon which you may happen across the entrance to the secret world they seem to admire and fear.
While these stuffy creatures have unique titles such as “Caretaker of Horror” and “Student of Fear”, they all share a common hatred of humans. They won’t care for your presence for too long, and will insist after imparting a clue that you leave them alone immediately.
It’s up to you, then, to sift through the brief suggestions they offered and put two-and-two together. There’s an excitement that I felt while doing this, one I haven’t experienced much since engaging with the whispers traded in pre-internet playgrounds of secret areas in videogames that required complex ceremonies to unlock. Abstract Ritual, by name and form, deliberately speaks to those old memories.
You could be searching for days. You might even come across the entrance by accident. I, myself, have found it but will not reveal its secrets. Getting stuck or lost in Strangethink’s twisting chromatic worlds has never resulted in displeasure, anyway. You’ll be fine, mostly.