So, Dontnod is wading back into the waters of Life is Strange once more. After previously handing off the prequel game, Before the Storm, to another studio, they’ve taken the reigns back and are warming up for season 2 of Life is Strange. Before they get to that, however, they’ve first given players a little taste of what’s to come with a free single shot story called The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
The first thing that’s important to note is that this is a demo for something bigger. Which means length isn’t its strong point. I clocked in around two hours, and I’m sure if I wanted to go back and experiment I could get a little more, but one playthrough felt like enough for me. Let me tell you why.
The titular Captain Spirit is ten year old Chris. A regular kid with a lot of imagination. The story chronicles one regular saturday in his life, and opens with him designing a costume for the titular superhero. The player has some minor control over what the final design looks like, but not a lot. And this is just the first instance of choice being lacking compared to previous titles.
From here, we go down to breakfast after being called by Chris’ father. He’s a widowed, well meaning kind of guy who clearly loves his kid, but also clearly misses his glory days, his wife and his sobriety, which is evident by the beer for breakfast thing he has going on. His alcoholism and depression is a major impact on Chris, and their interactions, as he’ll go from claiming he’ll try and be the best dad and cook better breakfasts, to having outbursts of swearing and anger at himself, at Chris, at the basketball game he’s watching on tv, at anything that gets in his way.
And so, Chris is left to his own devices, left to a list of ‘awesome things to do’ which is basically your gameplay goals. Build the rest of your costume, hunt down your arch nemesis and his cronies (which translates to ‘play with your action figures’), destroy the evil snow menace (the snowman in the backyard), fly your spaceship (get in your dads car). It’s a world of imagination that’s honestly pretty charming and was a delightfully nostalgic trip.
It helps that Chris’ voice acting is done by Chandler Mantione, a talented kid around the same age, so a lot of life is brought to the role. Captain Spirit himself makes me think a lot of id Software’s Commander Keen, and probably the closest I’ll get to an actual game. Just, with a super hero theme instead of aliens. And no pogo sticks. Unfortunately.
Still, while choice is lacking because dialogue and character interaction isn’t as big a part of the game, this game instead excels in exploration. Not only is it a case of finding things to do, finding how to do those things is just as important, and exploring is encouraged as it unravels more of Chris’ past and how he’s got to where he is, what’s going on with his dad, and where their family might be going next.
There’s even more of a focus on puzzles and it felt like a classic adventure game, using items with other items to obtain a goal or to progress to the next part of the story. Captain Spirit as a whole feels like a giant nostalgia trip not just as a person, but as a statement on adventure games as a whole. Which is probably why I found it charming enough to overlook its flaws.
Which, as I said, any choices in dialogue and in object interactions really felt like they didn’t make a difference. I didn’t feel like I could change Chris’ relationship with his dad, making it any worse or better. And even knowing it’s a single episode, there’s only so much they can do, but in a series about choice I couldn’t help but feel the entire thing was very linear. The outcome of this short episode is the same regardless, with only small things changing.
Though apparently these small things might matter in the upcoming Life is Strange 2, which incorporates saves from both this and the original game.
All in all, this was a charming, nostalgic experience that I can’t really fault for the great price of ‘free’. But I can’t help be left with a little worry for the upcoming season, whether it will fall into the same traps that the original did in terms of player choice meaning relatively little in the end.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is available now for PC, Xbox One and PS4.