When I was young, Saturday mornings never came quickly enough. Those days began around 6 or 7; my brother and I would eat sugary cereal and oranges while we watched cartoons and shed the week’s concerns—homework, grades, tests, girls. This was the simpler time people are always so wistful for, I think.
Nostalgia is a uniquely human condition, of course, because we’re one of the few species on this planet that doesn’t live in an eternal present. According to Svetlana Boym in her book The Future of Nostalgia, the word “nostalgia” is of Grecian extraction but only pseudo-Greek, a compound word—ν?στος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, and ?λγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache”—coined by a Swiss physician in the 17th century. At the time, nostalgia was a diagnosis; its treatments were similarly unrefined.
Boym argues that nostalgia becomes more common in times of upheaval—I don’t think anyone would disagree that this upheaval includes adolescence and what comes after. It’s the idea of “unrepeatable and irreversible time,” persistent uncertainty, and distance from one’s home that combine in various quantities to produce that idiosyncratic longing for a place and time irretrievably far from the here and now.
The first time I played Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork, I knew nothing about James Kochalka, Pixeljam Studios, or Glork(bot). I only knew that, by the time I earned myself a Game Over, I was craving Frosted Flakes and citrus; I got up, poured myself a bowl, and fired up a new game.
Glorkian Warrior isn’t as heavy as Boym’s book (404 pages!), but it too packs a solid dose of nostalgia. You play as the eponymous Glorkian Warrior—a purple humanoid alien with three eyes, three teeth, and a golden talking backpack that shoots lasers—protecting your asteroid (?) home from waves of brightly colored and geometrically-pleasing aliens. The game plays like a mashup of Space Invaders and Galaga, with ghostly topnotes of platformers and shoot ‘em ups past. In a word: Glorkian Warrior is a hell of a time.
While you don’t control the fire rate of your gun, whimsical powerups and weapon upgrades drop randomly from slain enemies and trigger a variety of effects, from destroying everything onscreen to unleashing bullet hell onto the next procedurally generated group of invaders. When you die—and you will die, there’s no winning this game—you’re treated to Kochalka’s delightfully immature observations in the form of dialogue between your character and his backpack, before being returned to the start screen to view the different easter eggs you’ve unlocked.
Aside from this lively action, Glorkian Warrior’s draws are Kochalka’s art and dialogue; until recently he was Vermont’s first Cartoonist Laureate, and his strong artistic vision drives the game, rendering its campy aesthetic amusing rather than affected. In other words: it feels like you’re playing a Kochalka comic, which is a very good thing. Also of note is the impeccable sound design, a bleep-y bloop-y complement to the consistently satisfying chaos onscreen.
The only real misstep in Glorkian Warrior is the default control scheme. Though I appreciated the effort to design an innovative control mechanism for touchscreen devices, I found it incredibly awkward to maneuver my warrior around the screen with anything resembling precision, something that’s non-negotiable in any shooter, whimsical or otherwise. That’s not to say consoles or arcade cabinets are totally precise, because they’re not, but I’d take the solidity of a joystick over the slipperiness of a touchpad any day. The default scheme works marginally better on an iPad—which is the device I’d recommend to play this game—but it’s still almost unusable. Luckily, Pixeljam thought to build in a virtual D-pad, a choice that solves the problem handily.
After four years of development, Pixeljam and Kochalka have created a fantastic game for the kids we all used to be—before puberty, before responsibility, before we had to grow up. Naturally, it’s best played on a Saturday morning in your underwear.