The Ghosts Of Videogames Yet To Come

A screenshot from Moose Life. It's like a vidkidz arcade game circa 1983 except new. The screen has the text "attractive moose! I will get a big plushie of you and cuddle up to it in bed. Soporific plushie. Moose cuddles"

Moose Life feels like a game that’s existed as long as videogames. Moose Life feels like a game I’ve never played the likes of before.

Moose Life is really confusing like that. Seriously, it’s kinda baffling.

It’s Llamasoft doing what they do best – a psychedelic arcade game, Vidkidz inspired, honed through 40 odd years of learning on the job, of craft and expertise. Particles fly, words explode, sheep baa. It’s beautiful, hypnotic, it is the zone incarnate.

It's particles. Purple particles everywhere.

If Polybius is the videogame as urban legend, Moose Life is the videogame as hauntology, an echo of something familiar that never really was. A day at the seaside never taken, a game never played in a pub, a sports centre, a chip shop. 10 pence pieces never spent, a name in a high score table never entered, a score never beaten.

Moose Life is uncanny in its authenticity yet also unsettling in its impossibility. An anomalous videogame, unstuck in time – too old to be new, too new to be old. Too perfect a combination to have existed before now.

And yet you could swear…

A screenshot from Moose Life. There is a pixel moose hanging from a pixel ceiling, green mushrooms are scattered all over the 'floor'

Everything, and I do mean everything, explodes

The amount of explosions in this thing is, quite frankly, obscene.

Thinking back to a lot of the time I spent with Space Giraffe and yeah, it was most definitely out there. That said, despite its reputation it certainly took a while to really let go.

By the time I’d survived through to Level 11 of Moose Life for the first time, my eyesight was absolutely broken.

Not in some metaphorical sense either! For a whole ten minutes afterwards anything and everything I looked at moved. Even words on my phone were zooming towards me.

It took until a good way around the halfway mark for Space Giraffe to have a similar effect on me. It’s completely wild. I loved it!

I can’t imagine sticking your head inside it in VR, blimey. That’s gotta chafe.

Moose Life. It's a very trippy orange screenshot with a purple pixel moose, a purple sphere and multicoloured pixel animals. And explosions.

Ostensibly, the objective is simple. Shoot enemies, take pills, save the animals, claim a high score. And yet.

Moose Life is a game of Chicken, of forever ducking and weaving inside the map. It is Defender mapped to a 3d space except the player is constantly facing the same way, staring down an endless one way tunnel of bold colours and chunky pixels.

Enemies rez into position, pixels all up the place. Your lasers shatter them back into pixels on contact. Mostly. Sometimes the player ends up changing the state of the enemy, an abstract shape becomes animal, threatening. Cubes shift colours, seem angrier somehow as though the digital distillation of Zelda’s anti-Zeroid cubes.

Moose Life. It's a lot of particles. You can just about make out some other stuff but mainly just particles.

Everything explodes.

Pills drift into the map offering some of the most ridiculous power ups ever to bless a videogame. Your moose throws a moose party, your moose splits into two – a mirror moose, reflected on the opposite surface.

If a pill drifts past the player, it still exists on the map. Lurch into a panicked reverse, try and remember the baddies that got through your defences so as not to blindly career into them, exploding your moose into pretty colours. Instead, find the pill, explode everything else into pretty colours.

Moose Life is Defender x Ballblazer x Encounter x Devil Daggers x Blaster (with a moose).

There’s so much going on in Moose Life, so many influences, inspirations – work done with intent and coincidentally – that it’s difficult to know where to even start describing it.

The Vidkidz influence is strong, it’s almost Defender mapped to a 3d plane. There’s a hefty dose of David Levine as drifting back and forth within the play area feels a lot like playing the Lucasarts classic Ballblazer (only wilder, obv)

The giant Robotrons flying towards your space moose are more than a passing nod to the criminally underappreciated arcade triumph that was/is Blaster

At times, it has the intensity of Devil Daggers shot through with the DNA of Paul Woakes’ excellent (and all too forgotten alongside Mercenary), Encounter.

It’s the videogame equivalent of a scotch drinker’s dreamiest dream. It’s the special stuff.

any excuse to link a Chinny comparison vid, really.

It’s early days yet but I rather suspect Moose Life might well be the best Llamasoft game since/alongside Space Giraffe, though as ever that’s all a bit “which best thing is the best?” so maybe ignore me.

Ok, let me try that again.

I’ve adored pretty much everything Llamasoft have punted out on recent gen machines, each and every game having been remarkable in its own standout way. Each game has had a distinct personality, never formulaic unless by necessity (and even then we’re talking Tempest 4000/TxK which are Llamasoft’s formula anyway. Well, and Dave Theurer’s too obviously. Let’s not be rude!), always taking steps to someplace else.

Moose Life feels important in the way Space Giraffe did. Steps forward, yeah? Big arcadey steps forward. It shouldn’t feel as fresh and new as it does but it absolutely does. It absolutely is.

I don’t know where we go from here but I can’t wait to find out. I bet it’s full of stars there too.

Moose Life is available on PC and PS4 in normal-o-vision and VR. I’ve been hammering the PS4 version and yes, yes, yes.

The title screen to Polybius. It's full of stars.

Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.

Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.

Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…

SHIELD DOWN

Polybius. It's a psychedelic tunnel.

If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.

It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s really incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.

Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.

Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.

A screen from Polybius bearing the words "smile upon fluffy sheepy". It is an explosion of colour beyond that.

A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.

Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.

Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.

Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.

Riding the outside of a tube in Polybius

Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.

Maybe a sound then? Yeah, that’s it. A sound.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

That’s the one. That’s Polybius.

Like the man says, scream if you want to go faster. Press X for enlightenment. Yes yes yes.