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REVIEW / Finding Teddy 2 (PC)

 

Finding Teddy 2 is an action adventure game that plays like a mix of the older incarnations of Zelda and Metroid. There’s little effort made to mask these influences (which is fine, as those are great games). When we first meet our hero she’s playing videogames and lo and behold, there’s what appears to be a Zelda II: Adventure of Link poster on her wall. The game deserves praise for having a female protagonist who isn’t hypersexualized: Teddy’s heroine is just a girl who wants to find her teddy bear. If she has to stab things with a sword to make that happen, so be it. The developers even include a little play on gender expectations in the opening cutscene.

 

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Pig tree crystal tailed spiky green pink things won’t deter me from finding my Teddy

 

The lights go out suddenly and our heroine shivers and looks around pensively. Until she pulls out a very Zelda-esque sword and shield, showing them off in a very Link-like way. She then drops the damsel-in-distress routine and her posture and animation becomes as stoic and determined as any male videogame hero. Unfortunately, the choice to make the protagonist a girl is really the only area of the design where the developers successfully go against the gaming grain.

Tarrant, the game’s heroine, has a nice weight to her. If you fall from a great height she takes a moment to recover. She keeps her shield upright when you aren’t attacking, so blocking is a cinch (much like in Zelda II). However, her sword swing has next to no range, and you can’t attack and move at the same time unless you’re dashing. This can make combat a frustrating affair: constantly inching forward and trying to land hits while staying out of harm’s way.

 

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These grim reapers look menacing, but they’re nothing a little face-stabbing won’t take care of.

 

I found myself in a narrow corridor squaring off against a lizard swordsmen and instead of inching, I kept dashing into him. Eventually, I just ducked until he started to emulate me, and then I stood up and stabbed him in the head four times or so until he died. You also have a downward stab attack which quickly became my favorite because it lets you move while attacking and just bounce on enemies’ heads until they die. Combat isn’t quite dreadful, but it certainly isn’t anything above par. Finding Teddy 2 may have taken the control scheme from Zelda II, but bafflingly decided not to lift other aspects from that series’ design.

The game utilizes a music system as an integral part of the game. The 3d Zeldas do this as well, but you don’t really appreciate how well they pull it off until you play Finding Teddy 2, which blunders it so triumphantly it’s almost awe-inspiring. In Zelda, you have 4 or 5 notes, a journal that keeps track of all the songs that you’ve learned, and a musical staff that appears whenever you have to play a song to advance. In Teddy 2, you have to collect the notes before you can play them (there are about 12 of them) and each note has a corresponding cryptic symbol. One looks like half an ‘S’ with a box on top. Another looks like two ‘H’s, both cursive with one uppercase and the other lowercase. Sort of. Then in a submenu, you keep track of each word you learn that you can say by playing the right sequence of notes.

 

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See that squiggly gibberish between the two lizard lancers that looks like it’s part of the background? That’s a song/spell/word. Memorize it because you don’t have a journal. Ok there’s like a U thing and then like an R and a lowercase h…

 

There are five pages of words, about 20 words on each page. Sometimes empty spots appear as a prompt when you have to play a word, and sometimes they don’t. If this sounds needlessly convoluted, it’s because it’s needlessly convoluted. At one point, I came to a golden chest and I could hear notes playing in the background, so I figured I had to play a song – sorry, play a word – to open the chest.

I began to play. No musical staff or any prompt of any kind appeared. I tried the command for open. Nothing. I tried a few other commands. Nothing. Then I backtracked and found the only way I could escape the section without the treasure was suicide. I went back and watched the trailer for the game, and the gameplay shown in that part luckily showed the part where I was stuck. So I memorized the notes: weird H’s, an S looking thing, and then a weird H with half a K. I made it back to the section and tried what I saw in the game’s trailer. It worked. I now had the swimmie toy and could traverse water and escape the section.

 

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I looked through my in game dictionary and this word was not yet in my lexicon. How I was supposed to not only know this word, but use it at this specific point completely eludes me, as does the decision to use such a system. It harkens back to games of the past when you had commands like LOOK, FIND, and OPEN on the bottom of the screen. Later games condensed these commands down to a single interaction button.

Getting stuck in games happens. There’s always something you overlook or an ability you forgot you had. In good games, when you look up the solution you should go, “Wow, how did I miss that?” In bad ones you go, “How could anyone have figured that out?” Teddy 2 falls into the latter category. It’s a nostalgia trip but in a bad way, like pining for the days when black people couldn’t sit in the front of a bus.

 

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The game is also ruined by another insane design choice: there’s no map. This is a Metroidvania type game. Even now, this is hardly unexplored territory. All these games reward exploration by giving you a map which gradually turns blue (usually) as you cover new ground. You can revisit areas as you gain new abilities to uncover secrets. Super Metroid, Symphony of the Night, Guacamelee, and UnEpic are but a few games that apply this design, all more successfully than Finding Teddy 2. In those games, exploration is part of the fun and there’s a sense of anticipation when you get some new item that makes the inaccessible accessible. But every time you come to a fork in the road in Teddy 2, you feel like the wife of a stereotypical husband who’s too manly for road maps and too smart for the GPS. We might not get lost. But we probably will.

It’s such a shame too because there’s a good game in Finding Teddy 2 somewhere. It’s one big patch, a few mods away from being a pretty good Metroidvania game. The pixel art style and animations are detailed and delightful. Transitioning from a castle to a Technicolor flower wonderland is awesome. The forests and graveyards are foreboding and, if you had a map, you’d want to explore them. Music is equally good, running the gambit of throwback chiptunes to somber, moody piano pieces. The charming art style, restrained exposition, and ambient audio are far and away the best parts of Finding Teddy 2.

 

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The story, on the other hand, does not number among the game’s stronger points. It begins with an opening crawl that starts off simply but soon descends into labyrinthine intricacies of kings who are evil but are then redeemed and just want friends and other kings who are going to take over the world and then there’s inter-dimensional shenanigans and backstabbing wizards and portals between worlds. Tarant is the evil king who imposes a tyrannical rule over Exidus. Tarrant is the game’s heroine. One ‘r’ makes all the difference. Just as Tarant is redeemed, Anguis, a magician, decides to overthrow him. He seals off the library of worlds, and four eggs are needed to reactivate it. These can’t be just any eggs, they need to be crystal eggs.

Just let me find Teddy already.

Oh there he is. You find Teddy 10 seconds into the game. He spends the remainder of it floating around you and then looking sad when you die. The game’s plot sounds like a bedtime story written in a maximum security prison’s creative writing program.

 

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After reading the opening crawl, I’m honestly not sure if “Me Guardian” is supposed to sound like a caveman.

 

Finding Teddy 2 is an infuriating experience because there is no reason it shouldn’t be another fine entry in the canon of Metroid homages. I want to be praising it for solid if not novel gameplay, great art and music, and for having a female protagonist who doesn’t wear a bikini made of chain mail. Unfortunately, I cannot. A series of simply inexplicable design decisions seals Teddy 2’s fate and I would not recommend it to anyone but the three gamers out there who think that having a map system and intuitive design represent the dumbing down of gaming. The game’s website bills it as “An Action Adventure type game that is all too rare nowadays.” But based on this entry into the genre, it’s rare for a reason.

 

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