It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters most.
Joining the burgeoning indie presence dwelling within the PlayStation Vita this summer is Dakko Dakko’s Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims In HD. Originally released as a PlayStation Mini in 2012, the 2D side-scroller has been blessed with trophy support and enhanced controls in its transition to high definition. Essentially a side-scrolling shooter under a pious guise, the game orbits around a pilgrimage to retrieve a stolen artefact, in which you play as the titular deity; a divine being with the responsibility to protect a group of pilgrims on their journey across a rich and varied world. What’s more, the game is infused with a Japanese sensibility. From the music to the sharp visuals, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims In HD is an ode to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Within the game, the over-arching quest involves you guiding 8 pilgrims – who in turn act as your proverbial health bar – and fending off a multitude of enemies in the process. Drifting across the screen like Lakitu from Mario Kart, controlling the cloud God is both fluid and liberating, which in turns presents a carrot and stick like system.
You see, in return for your divine protection, the journeymen will reward you with love; neatly represented as blossoming hearts, which act as the game’s power-up system. Hence, your shooting ability and rate of fire is directly paralleled with your success; as maintaining an accurate streak will cause the hearts to grow. Mind you, without the ability to shoot directly behind you, flying too far ahead can turn out to be a foolish move should an enemy swoop in behind you for the kill. A fate you’ll want to avoid at any cost.
This boils down to one of the greatest achievements of Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims In HD; which is the fact that the game does a remarkable job of making you care about these vulnerable sprites. Similarly to Pikmin, the chirping pilgrims invoke a sense of empathy through a mix of vulnerability and amusing animation. What’s more, the game’s progression system is moulded around these devoted followers. Complete a level with your 8 pilgrims intact and one of these will be replaced by a special counterpart represented with different, quirky headgear – including Viking helmets and panda guises.
The over-arching causality within Dokku Dokku’s charming production, though, is the Permadeath caveat, which adds a genuine sense of engagement to the game. Should one of your journeymen die, for example, you must wait until you complete the level before gaining a new one. As such, it’s easy to become more attached to your followers the further you progress, especially considering how you are rewarded with new, upgraded pilgrims for your indomitable success. In essence, it’s a neat way to raise the stakes, and one that works extremely well within the context of the game.
With an ideology orientated towards accessible videogames, it’s no wonder Dakko Dakko has a firm sense of the console they are designing for. Levels are concise and well-designed, with a retuned control schematic (configured to the handheld’s twin analogue sticks) and added trophy support, this is undoubtedly the most complete version of the game to date. It’s a feat that facilitates an experience that is fluid and easy to pick-up-and-play whether you’re commuting or just relaxing in front of the T.V.
From murky swamps to frozen plateaus, your pilgrimage through these various environments is visually striking, and the game’s colour palette puts each and every pixel in the Vita’s OLED screen to good use – a feature evident in the game’s hand-drawn aesthetic. These short narrative snippets are wonderfully realised, particularly during the one-shot story segments that bookend the campaign and serve to add context to your meandering quest. The serene soundtrack is also extremely relaxing and coalesces with the sharp, vector graphics to provide a gameplay experience that is enjoyable and challenging in equal measures.
There are parts, for example, where an environmental obstacle would restrict your progression by pushing your pilgrims into a limited space. These lulls act as a good change in pace and require you to undergo a balancing act of defending your pilgrims from the enemy onslaught while also trying to clear said impediment.
The enemy variety begins to reveal its depth as you progress through these seven weird and wonderful realms, from Arctic foxes to malicious Chinese lanterns, Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims In HD is choke full of personality. Boss fights act as the figurative crescendo to each of the world’s three-staged tier, and are creative, challenging and above all, intuitively designed.
The game itself flows beautifully. An achievement that is largely due to the lack of any notable cut scenes or jarring death animations, resulting in a smooth, uninterrupted playthrough. No difficulty options or unnecessary plot are thrust upon you either – other than the aforementioned stolen artefact. In fact, the user interface and AI in general are so amiable, replacing the more traditional ‘quit’ with ‘take a break’, for instance, is emblematic of the gaming experience that the studio are striving towards.
While it isn’t an out and out limitation, the actual length of the game does feel a little short. Without doubt, it’s a subtle compliment that I was left wanting more as the game drew to its colourful conclusion. Plus, considering that this is a HD remaster of a PlayStation Mini title, the game’s longevity is absolutely understandable. Still, score junkies may be disappointed with the lack of online leaderboards, too, but realistically, Dakko Dakko’s creation just isn’t that type of game.
With Intuitive level designs, charming animation and a fantastically clear-cut reward system, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims In HD is, at once, brilliantly simple in design yet surprisingly complex; like a beautifully constructed spider’s web.
This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game, which was provided to us.
Dakko Dakko’s love letter to the Land of the Rising Sun is a wonderful burst of personality, making Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims HD a pilgrimage that is absolutely worth embarking on.