It can be said that I love quirky stories, and quirky stories tend to love me. We’re mutually drawn to each other. The more awkwardly dressed a story, the more fashionable I find it, particularly when it comes to video games, as the inherent interactivity of it gives the player an active role to assume and a stake in the ending. Better games would take that one step farther and give you options, moral, of course, but sometimes it’s simply a forked path, a chance to alter your course and thus, tell your own story with someone else’s words behind it.
All the Bad Parts (240 MSP), a bizarre jaunt from start to finish, sides with the more existential forked path, as even though your surroundings might not change, the people and ideas that inhabit that place and time may.
A semi-finalist in the Indie Games Summer Uprising, from creators Ben Cook and Well Bred Rhino, AtBP tells the story of Corbin and his reliving of experiences at different periods in his life. Unfortunately for him, these memories comprise all the bad parts. A side-scroller at heart, with vibrant 2D characters and art but rendered in a sort of 2.5D perspective, the story begins with a young Corbin in school, who notices straightaway that something’s not right, as classes finish in moments, with teachers ushering non-existent students out one door and into the next. Exploring the halls, he finds that once-familiar bullies have morphed into bug-headed versions of themselves.
Combat with these hybrid creatures breaks up the exploration in each of the game’s four stages. You’ve got a standard punch and kick / jump kick, and a combo meter that builds on consecutive hits and makes you more powerful. You do unlock combos as you progress through the chapters, but likely you’ll resort to button mashing, which works just as well. Occasionally laying around the world you’ll find objects to use, but you won’t do battle with impersonal weapons, as those you pick up in AtBP are affectionately given names (Dave the Dodgeball, Benson the Bat, etc.). Though partially billed as a brawler, the fighting actually gets repetitive, especially during some of the backtracking. Regrettably there’s no skipping out, as it’s compulsory to advance the plot.
Out of combat and exploration, Corbin will talk with a variety of characters including family and friends, most of whom will not be able to hear his queries about what’s going on, and only repeat their dialogue as it happened in Corbin’s recollection of it. The select few who can will often require Corbin to complete objectives consistent with his memory before he can continue on filling in the blanks. The tasks are largely just collecting scattered items and taking them elsewhere, with a lot of the above-mentioned fights en route, particularly during the Languish stage, Corbin’s later, office-working years. While you’re never entirely lost on what to do (pressing the back button gives you the latest update), a map or objective arrow that could be toggled would’ve been welcomed.
Corbin during his ‘Orkin Man’ years.
If it sounds like I’m unjustly harping on the game for its shortcomings, I’m not. While the combat and exploration aspects could have been handled better, it’s really the story here that compels you onward. There are times when AtBP tries for Braid’s emotional resonance (and succeeds in spots), but awkward dialogue and out of place humor often ditch the serious tone before it settles in, which reminds me a bit of Deadly Premonition. Quite a few comparisons I’m drawing with this one. Still, even the lighter moments can’t diminish the gravity of your predicament, such as conversing with the ghost of your recently deceased father, walking around the church and trying to put your isolated and grieving family back together, all the while fighting bugs dressed in their best funeral attire. The sparse musical score here sets the mood. Everything considered in that moment, it’s a bit unnerving, and well-crafted.
For an indie title, it’s also a decently-sized adventure. Your first playthrough will probably take three-plus hours, and there’s definite replayability here. I’ve got word straight from the developer’s mouth (well, email) on that:
I can tell you this much. There are definitely more than 3 endings.
There are a couple branching points in the story, but I tried to make them a little subtle so it would reflect the player’s gut instinct of “what do I do next”, without them thinking too much about it. In the best case scenario, two different people who had beaten the game could compare notes, find they had different endings, and then work their way backwards together to see where it shifted. Then they could learn a little more about each other, why each person did whatever they did.
Personally having played through twice now, seeing two distinctly different endings, with alternate or missing events / dialogue in the stages between for each attempt, clearly your decisions in-game extend well beyond the cursory and invite a return trip. The scenes where a subtle choice is offered give you pause to consider how you’d pick in that situation, wherein that honesty results in a more truthful ending, the merits of which will be different for each player (and the choices made).
How you approach games like All the Bad Parts determines what you’ll get out of it. On the one hand you’ve got heavier themes and a thought-provoking plot, at odds with the mostly bright art and infrequent but jarring comedic notes that don’t lend themselves to the darker tone. Regardless, the overall content of the story impresses, with its willingness to tackle the big questions that are not so much world-altering as they are self-altering, the for better or for worse moments that combine to make a life, and the game argues how we react to that life will be the decisions that define us. I thoroughly enjoyed Corbin’s strange tale, more so in making it my own. Do yourself a favor. Press Start to realize.
EDIT: 10/20: Subsequent updates to the game have added a mapping function that fills in as you explore, and enemy placement has been tweaked to make for slightly fewer encounters throughout. Combat has been altered as well, speeding up the fights, changing the closing distance for instigating combat, as well as adding a new ‘area of effect’ combo on the last stage. All of these mentioned updates have improved significantly some of the flaws mentioned in my main review, which makes this current version the most ideal form of the story. – TH
CONTEST 1/21/12: Awhile back, the developer was kind enough to give us a pair of codes for All the Bad Parts, which we were going to use in an promotion among all the indie review sites. That never came to fruition, and since I’ve had those codes for a while, I’ve decided to run a sort of ‘silent contest’, in that if you’re reading this, you may be the first to do so. If you’re interested in the game, simply leave a comment below stating as much, and I’ll send you a code, provided you leave a way to contact you. Two copies are available.
Want to hear more from the developer about the game? Read our interview here.