Sententia

As I noted in my review of qrth-phyl, I get called out a lot for picking on developers.  I really try to avoid this and focus on the game, but sometimes my methodology on criticism can seem like I’m going after someone when I’m not.  If I say a developer’s game sucks, it’s taken to mean I think the developer sucks.  And if I’m especially harsh on a game, it’s thought that I need to lighten up and look for positive things to talk about and “quit being so personal.”  It’s never personal.  Ever.  So hopefully I’ve cleared that all up and can now focus on writing a balanced review.

Sententia is the worst Xbox Live Indie Game of the year.

I spent a few hours slogging through it, including accidentally scrubbing my save file while attempting to show someone how the game began, which meant I got to start over.  Of all the critics who are covering the Uprising, I’m pretty sure I made the least progress in the game.  I know there are people who say that a review doesn’t count if you don’t finish the game.  To that I say, unless it has a magical stop-being-crappy section, I don’t think there’s anything I can possibly miss discussing about it.

The idea is you’re some kind of demon monster thingie (I think) who is coming of age and learning to use magical connect-the-dots to um, do something.  I honestly have no clue.  Which is odd because there’s certainly enough writing that I would hope to grasp what is going on.  Instead, a kid just kinda wanders off on the woods, sees giant-sized devil thingies, and doesn’t turn around and run home to his daddy.

Sententia describes itself as an art game in its marketplace blurb.  I’m not a huge fan of games that label themselves as such, because most that do so use it as an all-purpose bullet-proof vest for criticism.  It gives a developer or a game’s fans the ability to deflect any valid complaints by saying “it’s art house, it’s not for everyone.”  I got this vibe when I interviewed Michael last month.  I came away liking the guy and admiring his amazing effort in organizing the Uprising.  I also looked at his game, compared it to the other eight games, and figured it didn’t belong.  And it doesn’t.  I get no pleasure from saying that, but it’s true.  It probably should have been the last game to release, so as to not taint the event.

Let’s picture non-regulars on the XBLIG scene catching wind of the Uprising through some of the big time coverage it has got.  Sententia is the second game in the promotion, after the very good but also very weird qrth-phyl.  Maybe qrth-phyl looked too weird to sample.  Thus, Sententia becomes the first game that many people sample in this promotion that purports to show off the best XBLIG has to offer.  Within fifteen minutes, everything wrong with Sententia becomes evident.  Bad graphics.  Annoying sound effects.  Horrible play control.  Sloppy interface.  Bad writing.  Cheap level design.  Those people who think XBLIG is a joke and avoid the channel like the plague who decide to take a chance because of the hype say “this is the best Xbox Indies are capable of?”  They don’t know that Sententia, and this will really sound harsh, only got in because it’s the game created by the guy who ran the promotion.  So those people play this, are completely turned off by the scene, and they never come back.

And for the record, I feel like a total bitch for saying that.

Guys, next year I’m picking the order.  

Sententia’s hook is that you occasionally have to pause the game and do a connect-the-dots puzzle.  Every dot has little slash-marks on it, signifying how many lines will extend from it.  This is actually a cool idea for a standalone game, assuming it’s done right.  Sententia doesn’t do it right, mostly owing to the clumsy building interface.  It’s slow-moving, awkward, and accident-prone.  If you make a mistake, deleting a line can be an exercise in frustration.  There were times where the cursor simply refused to highlight the line I wanted to delete.  I had to delete all the other lines that it wanted to highlight instead before I could correct the mistake.  There’s also no “clear-all, start over” button.  So if you’ve totally cocked-up a puzzle (and you will do that a bunch, trust me), your punishment is to slowly clean up before starting over.  I asked Michael if anyone had pointed this stuff out to him, and he said no, the play testing went well.  So going off that, good job play testers!  Given the nearly universal negative reaction to Sententia I’ve seen today, I can’t believe none of you thought “maybe I should say something.”

This is where I quit. The smaller, hard-to-see blocks in the center of the level drop quickly after you land on them. Because of the timing of the controls, you don’t have enough time to shoot the enemies or defend yourself in any way against them. It’s one of the most horribly conceived layouts I’ve ever seen in any game.

So the hook was botched.  The rest of the game pretty much plays like a run-of-the-mill platformer, assuming the run was given to a recently lobotomized goldfish.  The controls are horribly sluggish, with movement and jumping being slow.  There’s a noticeable delay in responsiveness.  So naturally the game has several sections that require timed-precision platforming with respawning enemies.  The enemies are typically placed on narrow platforms, and will fire at you if you are on the same plane as them.  Since you can’t jump and fire at the same time, you pretty much have no choice but to rely on luck and hope the game glitches out and the enemies get respawned on the wrong platform.  That happens.  And thankfully the enemies can’t possibly respawn on the wrong platform in a way that makes it impossible to proceed.  Oh wait, that happens too.  Don’t worry though, it won’t matter, because you’ll get stuck trying to walk past two respawning enemies on platforms that drop out from underneath you almost as soon as you step on them.  Or “get as close to the edge as you can before jumping” platforms that are scattered all over the game.  I honestly can’t come up with a single positive thing to say about the gameplay.  It’s abysmal in every way a game can be.

I’m not sure how Sententia was released in the state it’s in, or how anyone, even the creator of the game, could be delusional enough to think this should have been included in an Xbox Live Indie Game showcase.  A theory kicked to me on my Twitter feed is that Sententia made it in as a matter of convenience, because it was a game that was available and done.  If that’s the case, I object to the use of the word “done.”  Unless we’re using the “stick a fork in it, it’s done” context.  Simply put, you don’t stick a game that is total and complete uncompromising and unapologetic garbage in a lineup of games designed to showcase the potential of a game platform on the grounds that there was nothing else available.  It would be like not having enough food to cover a reception, so one lucky guest gets the honor of eating a plate full of shit.  Again, not trying to pick on Michael Hicks.  He’s a cool dude.  But his game could very well be the worst game on the entire XBLIG platform, and should not have been used in a promotion designed to lure in new fans.  Michael, I commend you for your efforts in the third Indie Games Uprising.  You busted your ass hard for your fellow developers and you should be saluted for that.  You spread the gospel of Xbox Live Indie Games like a modern-day John the Baptist.  And, like John, your head ended up being served on a silver platter.

“Where the Mild Things Are”

Sententia was developed by MichaelArts

80 Microsoft Points had no fun writing any of the above in the making of this review.  In fact, I feel pretty dang rotten about it. 

Also check out the reviews of Sententia from my associates at Indie Theory, Clearance Bin Review, TheXBLIG.com and more to come.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

24 Responses to Sententia

  1. Dangus says:

    I completely agree. After qrth phyl I was eagerly anticipating what the next day had to offer. I got about halfway through the trial before I went back to the dashboard in utter disappointment. Oh well, here’s to Gateways and City Tuesday.

  2. Starglider says:

    From the start of the discussion Michael was absolutely insistent on ‘no voting, lets just club together and brand our games’. The people who wanted to do it slightly later were shut out, and the ‘indie achievements’ linking theme was shut down. So the ‘game was included because it was available’ theory is incorrect; he was dead set on getting this game into the promotion from day one.

  3. drake1993 says:

    maybe some redemption at some point in time with the new and upcoming maybe sorta kinda………. ( i am thinking no and if so no one will be there to play . )

    😦

  4. drake1993 says:

    also don’t feel bad about telling the truth . it very well may be needed . you know tough love >.<

  5. Rick B. says:

    I didn’t feel good about ripping it apart either, but it had to be done. No sugar coating this one. I would have rather seen Funky Balls(which released Monday) be part of the Uprising(it’s actually decent). So they can’t claim there was nothing else. Hell, even Snops and Brimstone look good. Can’t fully comment on their quality, but they can’t be worse than this.

  6. And here I was worried you were starting to become so entrenched in the community you had lost your objectivity. Glad you proved me wrong.

  7. Yeah, all credit to Michael for his efforts in the Uprising but the game is bad. I don’t think it’s the worst game on XBLIG – it’s better than Craftimals – but it is worse than Goolin, and that’s never high praise. The Uprising is meant to showcase what XBLIG is capable of, so the featured games should be the best available. Sententia, whatever you could say about ‘getting it’ or being ‘not for everyone’, just does not represent XBLIG in a positive light.

  8. Mike says:

    Yes, the game is painful. It’s even more painful to read Kairi’s interview of the creator. It seems like the guy put all of his heart into this game, and it just turned out awful. It’s positively gut wrenching, however, to realize that this person used to be me.

    No, I don’t mean that I’m the guy who made this game. Our shared name is just a quirk of statistics. Back when I was his age (I hate how I’m old enough to say that), I also had created a game that I poured my heart and soul into. I labored over design decisions to get everything just right. And when I finally finished the game, I seem to have totally missed that the player’s ship controlled like a ping pong ball in a dryer and that the game was impossible to win without cheating starting at about halfway through level two.

    I feel like this guy has fallen into the same trap. I’m sure there are aspects of the game that would be great if we could just get past the horrible physics and awkward puzzle controls. In the same way that a sandwich might taste pretty good if you’d just take out the broken glass and the poisonous spider. Fortunately, now he has a Kairi to berate him and make him see the error of his ways. There weren’t any Kairi’s back in my day. Well, there was, but she would have been to short to be taken seriously back then.

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  11. An XBLIG Guy says:

    XBLIG has been seen as a platform to experiment and learn. It’s like a sandbox where we can put nobel ideas and try to make the best implementation we can, knowing that the losses will be minimum if we fail, although any income will be equally small if we succeed. When done right, projects involving wild ideas become the lost jewels that nobody has heard of. However, when they fall short to the expectation of young adult gamers (note for the market study) , they fall into the balls-kicking room, or in a dungeon for torture at YouTube. I’m in the latter group, just like any other novice XNA developer, and I still haven’t found my way out.

    My support goes to Michael – I know how hard it is to put a game out there.

  12. Gamertag: Alfred Saxon says:

    It never should of been in the uprising. Who let it in?.

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