A week with: Papa Sangre II - an iPhone game that you play by ear
Release date: Today
Price: £2.49 in the first week and £2.99 thereafter
Developer: Somethin' Else
What is it?
It's a video game without any video. If this sounds roughly as interesting as a newspaper without any articles, hang on a second: the absence of images is not the consequence of dire budget cuts at Somethin' Else, Papa Sangre II's developers, but instead a deliberate gameplay mechanic.
Instead of using hand-eye co-ordination, you're forced to rely on your ears to navigate an unsettling garden located beyond the grave. "You're here because you're dead," Sean Bean tells you regretfully at the very beginning, before explaining that your iPhone and everything else you can see are no more than a memory of your last few days, that the only real world is the one you can see with your eyes shut, and that if you don't retrieve as many memories as possible, your route back to the land of the living will be blocked forever.
How do you play?
By listening very carefully. The game only works with headphones – and, importantly, headphones on the right way round: the netherworld around you is represented by various noises, some you want to travel towards, some you want to avoid.
If it's audible in your right ear, you need to turn to the right; likewise to the left. If you hear it in both, it's right in front of you. When you're facing the right way, you walk by tapping your fingers on the screen. And ideally, you should be doing all of this standing up, with your eyes closed. Basically, it's like children's TV classic Knightmare, but with an iPhone instead of a helmet.
Is it any good?
Well, there's a question. The first three minutes of Papa Sangre II are an absolutely delight: the concept is so smart and so well executed stylistically that you really feel drawn into something different. The tone is exactly right: spooky and a little unnerving (the monsters that are chasing you make some truly revolting sounds) but funny, too, mostly thanks to Sean Bean's deadpan voiceover. There are very few games that feel genuinely fresh; even if it's a sequel, this one does.
Whether the gameplay makes good on this is another question. There are, in the end, only so many things you can do by turning around in circles, and sometimes I found it hard to tell exactly where the memories I was heading towards were, a bit like the pixel-perfect jumps that were the worst feature of platform games in the 1980s.
What I kept thinking was: the only limits on the wit and immersion of this title are in the fact that it has to be a game. For your next trick, Somethin' Else, just make a world, and let me wander through it, coming across surprising things. I'm sure you could do it with your eyes closed.
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