Dontnod is one of the only studios that can release a free two hour game that evokes more emotion in me than most several hour long narratives. After playing through The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit twice, my excitement for the upcoming Life is Strange 2 couldn’t be more glaring. If the sequel to the beloved franchise is anything like what you experience in this emotional prequel, the series is moving forward in a direction that we can all safely feel excited about.
Everything that made Life is Strange what it was is back in full force. Dealing with grief, the loss of a parent, real and emotional interactions with dialogue that doesn’t feel written and instead feels like it was ripped right out of an average American small town home. Captain Spirit puts you in the shoes of nine year old Chris Erikson, who wants nothing more than to use his colorful imagination to deal with the crappy hand that life has dealt him. He develops a superhero alter ego to cope with a drunken father who has seemingly held onto the past for dear life and is self medicating his way through parenthood.
From the start of the game it is very clear that the relationship between Chris and his father is a tumultuous one. You start out in your room with your father calling from the kitchen and the longer you take to exit your room and adhere to your fathers calling, the more angry and abrasive his tone becomes. Depending on how long you take to finally leave your room completely changes the tone and delivery of your good morning dialogue between Chris and his father. Dontnod are excellent story tellers that can set the tone of an entire relationship in merely three lines of dialogue.
Chris has the whole Saturday to himself as his father slumps into the recliner to watch a basketball game, quickly switching from numerous cans of beer to fingers of whisky. The snowy atmosphere and Saturday morning time frame really bring out a feeling of nostalgia and wonder that, unfortunately, is only in memories for most of us. The actual gameplay comes from a mix of accomplishing small goals that turn you into your beloved “Captain Spirit” persona. The game plays exactly how you would expect if you’ve ever played the previous entries in the Life is Strange series or have enjoyed a Telltale Games title. The tasks include fighting your way through dark and murky waters to slay a monstrous beast (which is really just Chris going into a closet and turning on the pilot light). Or taking off in your interstellar spaceship to fight the fearful and sinister Mantroid (which involves you getting the keys to your father’s car and starting the engine).
There are decisions to be made in Captain Spirit, but most of what you’re doing is solving very basic point and click adventure style puzzles. This appears to have been a deliberate choice by the developer so that they weren’t locked into any decisions you make in the prequel. Dontnod has said that some of the choices you make in this game could affect the outcome of Life is Strange 2 when it comes out in September, but from my playthrough I did not notice anything that would stick, but maybe that’s just how clever and nuanced this series has become.
The art style encompasses Dontnod’s signature approach and goes for a minimalist take on graphics in an industry overrun by photorealism everywhere you look. The simplistic nature of the characters and environment won’t push any benchmarking tools, but it adds to the charm and wonder of the overall presentation. The soundtrack pairs perfectly with the on-screen moments and adds an ambience that is truly something special, which has become expected from this carefully crafted universe.
Something that felt lacking in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm was the ability to use superhuman powers to complete otherwise menial tasks. Captain Spirit takes the opportunity to use the magic and whimsy of childhood to turn a small activity list Chris has created for himself into something truly special. With the push of a button you can turn your super powers on, which of course are all in your mind (or are they?) and do things like turn the TV on with your mind and set logs ablaze in the fireplace to the tune of a vibrating controller. The gameplay here is nothing groundbreaking or even new, but it’s something that works so well it’s not anything I would want changed anyway.
The relationship between the Ericksons is something truly special. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was incredibly impactful on me even with only two hours to accomplish what it set out to do. The narrative that was formed between a father and son who were both grieving for the loss of a mother and wife was a stunning contrast. Dad deals with it by drinking and clutching to the past and Chris deals with it by becoming his very own superhero. As the game progresses, Dad slowly begins to fall asleep and pays less and less attention to you as you engage in your otherworldly activities. The dichotomy of those two worlds colliding makes for some very intense moments, and at the same time, some very magical ones. I cannot go into more detail about how it all plays out, as it would only serve to spoil the experience, and it’s one I think is certainly worth having, especially for the low low cost of free.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on the PS4 version.