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Sleepy Stu’s Adventure – A choose-your-own-path platform gamer with depth
There have often been times when I have dreamed of packing up my belongings and leaving behind me the city which has plagued my ears so often with noise and needless hassle for a countless number of years (seven). This would be fairly easy for me to do because firstly, I have roughly five belongings and three of these are my clothes, wallet and shoes. Secondly, I can say this with such ease because I often speak hypothetically in my reviews with tendencies for extreme hyperbole and hypothetical imaginings. The reason I posit this desire here is because Stu (the main character) had exactly the same desire to abscond from the noisy and unnecessary happenings of the inner city in favour of taking up residence in a quirky yet picturesque house in the countryside of idyllic wondrousness. Platform gaming has a new contender, and its name is ‘Sleepy Stu’s Adventure’.
We meet Stu in the comic-like introduction and learn that his strong disenchantment with his current living situation has led to him seeking asylum in a house which looks as if it is being sold by an estate agent that caters to customers who exist exclusively in the land of fairytales. All that stands in your way are the fifty seemingly-straightforward challenges that lay between you and a peaceful existence. You must guide Stu through the increasingly difficult adventure by navigating the obstacle-filled landscape, reaching the exit and progressing ever further towards your dream house in the country.
To explain it in the most simple of ways, you must get Stu from A to B (B is the exit should this be unclear) using the usual directional arrows, but the manner in which you do this is what makes the game so unique. In order to successfully complete each level, you must utilise the various skills which Stu possesses which increase in number as you progress through the levels. The first fifteen stages are somewhat of a hand-holding exercise where the game guides you through his basic abilities: Left and right movement (pretty essential in a 2D platform game), basic jumping (upwards arrow) and double jumping (upwards arrow after your initial jump) all serve to make your navigation to victory possible while also separating this game from many other of the platform genre.
As you make some well-deserved progress through the game, you are imbued with further skills such as levitation (allowing you to hover at the level of the platform you were previously standing on), sticky-headedness (a made-up name for the ability to adhere to the underside of platforms), the ability to shoot projectiles (very handy when attempting to activate switches from afar) and teleportation, which is acquired much later on in the game and is limited to one use per level. Your final ability is dependent on the relative path you take within the game; this unique little quirk is one of the many factors that makes this game so fun to play and is explained in further detail below.
Notable depth to the game is created with the necessity of having to choose the abilities you use in each level very carefully. This doesn’t matter as much in the earlier stages where the game is aware that you are still familiarising yourself with the basics; however, from level fifteen onwards (by which time you should be comfortable with the basics) you are restricted in the number of abilities you can ‘carry’ with you, the number of which depends on your in-game energy level indicated very clearly by the red-green bar in the middle of the screen. Some lateral and dare I say logical thinking is required in order to correctly select the skills appropriate to allow you to overcome the particular obstacles which each level throws your way. Alternatively, you can simply allow the computer to select them for you, which reduces the fun derived from the game by at least fifty percent.
Adding to the lengthy list of factors which almost push this game into its own sub-genre is the multi-faceted nature of your potential progress throughout the game, which is entirely reliant on the manner in which you complete the levels. During the game, you are informed that you have the option of taking either the difficult or the easy path. The difficult path means that you are required to collect all the flowery items in the level in order to progress, but is rewarded with good levels of karma, the status of which you can view on the menu screen. Choosing the easier path mostly requires you to simply locate and shoot a particular target within each level, bypassing the difficult and intricate moves often required to take the more complex way out.
Not entirely dissimilar to the moral choices faced by your average Jedi when choosing between the light and dark side of the force, your decision of whether to pursue the rewarding difficult path or the cowardly easy route through the game has a direct effect on the eventual outcome of the story and even the ninth and final skill you acquire. Having been a fan of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series of ‘Goosebumps’ books as a child, I instantly appreciated the novelty of the player choosing their own path through the game instead of being forced into a predictable and fixed progression that is linear in nature.
The score or ‘Karma’ system is central to the development of the game in general, as well as being the factor that determines your final skill, your score, the environment around you and even the ending of the game. Choosing to follow the way of Yoda means that rewarded with the flying skill you are, whereby you are free to levitate at will regardless of platform position. Allowing the hate to flow through you will reward you with the destructive power of having your projectiles destroy everything in their path.
As mentioned above, the backgrounds within the levels tend to vary according to your progress within the game and are also responsive to the path which you choose along the way. The difficult path progresses from an autumn-coloured backdrop of overwhelmingly pleasant scenery in which you can see your intended sleeping destination, progressing to summery colours and lush green grass. To give a sense of perspective and the relative passing of time, darkness eventually falls and is again followed by daytime. Taking the easy passage through the game results in a similar start to the difficult path but an eerie darkness falls very early on and sets in with a damning permanence that never ends.
As far as the endings go, we are presented with three possibilities. The first is the result of choosing the cowardly path and concludes with Stu’s arrival at the house only to find that it is occupied by several ghosts of sinister appearance. As if his day wasn’t already bad enough, the final consequence for choosing what is easy over what is right is that Stu is cursed to stay awake for eternity; this serves him right for choosing the path of least resistance, which I’m sure is a life lesson that many could (but definitely won’t since that would be too easy) take from this game. If you somehow manage to walk the line between good and evil, you are rewarded with the neutral outcome in which you find out that the house is warm and cosy yet filled with an air of loneliness, but when all things are considered, you could have done a whole lot worse.
Choosing the godly path that contains tricky gameplay and indeed a sense of hard-earned righteousness will result in arriving at a very bright and cheerful-looking house with smoke emanating from the chimney. This happy-ever-after scenario sees Stu discover a double bed and a female partner for which he is perfectly suited for since she also happens to be an unusual round-edged creature shaped like a bar of old fashioned hand soap (apparently romance comes in all forms).
‘Sleepy Stu’s Adventure’ single-handedly distinguishes itself from all other flash-based platform titles with its unique gameplay. Sporting fifty main levels, twenty ‘challenge mode’ levels, three moral paths and the resultant multiplicity of endings, it stands alone in its ability to immerse the player into a world all of its own. Every movement and manoeuvre that is required to successfully complete each level needs to be as precise as the selection of skills that needs to be made at the start of them. Avoidance of the spiked blocks is essential due to their deadly nature; to do this, each skill must be utilised to circumvent or destroy these threats in order for Stu to collect all available flowers and pass on to the next level with success. When it comes down to it, this is more than just a run-of-the-mill platform game.
The challenge mode levels are the ultimate demonstration of the requirement of extreme dexterity in the controlling of the position of Stu throughout the game. Even finding the location of the ‘challenge mode’ option is pretty demanding and requires that you hover your mouse at a certain position over the background of the progress menu; this point sits just above the first crest of the hill and in line with the words in the corner of the screen. It is even required that you complete a certain number of the main adventure levels before you can access the different ones in challenge mode. This difficult part of the game requires delicate control and astronomical levels of patience since even completing the first few levels is a challenge within itself.
It would be foolish to assume that the relative ease of passage through the first few main levels is an accurate representation of the general difficulty of the game. Upon reaching level twenty, the height of complexity in each scenario rises sharply to an altitude that is almost unbeatable to all but the most experienced of platform gamers and mountaineers. It was around level twenty six that I first started to realise that things were about to take a challenging turn and that the only way to overcome this was to stop playing or improve my performance dramatically. Much to my massive enjoyment and equally huge levels of frustration, I chose the latter.
It has been quite a while since a game has managed to simultaneously invoke the perfect levels of enjoyment and frustration in the exact ratios required to make for the perfect gaming experience. ‘Sleepy Stu’s Adventure’ is unlike any other platform game I have played before it, possessing characteristics that echo many classics such as the movement style of Super Mario and the original Donkey Kong, while maintaining the level of challenging difficulty that was typical of Super Metroid and the lesser-known Pushover
The game seems to possess some of the most essential ingredients known to gaming: Basic movement controls, varying and eventually-acquirable skills (based on level progress), unassuming (yet unique) graphics, atmospheric relaxation music to ease the frustration and most importantly, level design that is deceptively straightforward yet alarmingly difficult to conquer. For those of you that are having trouble following the previous allusions to classic platform games, I’ll put it in a more simple way: This game isn’t just good; it’s a fantastic example of the puzzling platform genre at its very best, and you would be responsible for a major miscarriage of entertainment if you were to pass up the opportunity to play it.