It’s clear from their short list of developed games that AAG Studio just does whatever feels good to them and seems silly at the time. Their debut game, Nighthaw-X3000, was a brightly colored, classic arcade shoot ‘em up that reached Fresh Prince-levels of nostalgia. Gaben Kingdom, their sophomore effort, is very different. Gaben Kingdom immediately struck me as a game that would be best suited to a mobile platform, purely because it reminded me of Angry Birds (disclaimer: I have never played Angry Birds). Both games involve taking your controlled lump of a character and flinging them across a level to take out enemies, and that’s where the similarities end.
Gaben Kingdom is a tiny, simple, yet strangely addictive puzzle platformer coming to Steam on May 12. 2017. It features our lord and savior, Gabe Newell (if someone could please design a sarcasm font, know that it would be used generously here) as a plump collection of pixels controlled by the player. The player and Gaben must save the world from the evil hands of a vicious corporation, lest we lose our beloved cheap games and game sales. If you haven’t guessed that the “plot” of the game is very tongue-in-cheek, this is me telling you as much.
There are 70 levels spread across seven worlds, the latter of which are named familiar things like Summer Sale World and Winter Sale World. You only have one goal, and that’s to eliminate all of the enemies on the map in each level and reach the end of the stage. You have a limited (albeit usually very generous) number of moves in each level, so you must plan your actions accordingly.
In order to reach the end of the stage, you have to take out all but one of the enemies on the map, then fling yourself into the final enemy/goal post. You can also pick up collectable floating wads of cash. Picking up all the money in a level is the only way to get three stars (the maximum amount) for your end of level ranking.
Gaben Kingdom is played mostly with a mouse. Holding the left mouse button summons a circle around the king, which has a little navigator circle inside showing you the opposite direction of where he is going to be tossed. You can fling Gaben over short or long distances, knock him into enemies and other breakable items like blocks and stop him mid-flight to reposition and change direction using the slow motion mode. The game encourages you to use the slow motion mode sparingly to make the game more challenging. I didn’t start having fun until I began using the slow motion mode. Once I did, the game did become addictive, as promised by the developers.
My gripes with the gameplay come down to two main issues. Firstly, the edges of the level, including the edge directly behind the goal post, are all grounds for game over if passed through. I realize this is probably by design to make things more challenging, but there were multiple times where I sailed right past the goal post by a few centimeters and lost all my level progress because the back wall didn’t bounce me back. Same goes for flinging myself up way too high and disappearing through the top edge of the screen.
Secondly, there is little differentiation between platforms you can land on and platforms that you fall through. This is particularly problematic in the first environment. My miniature pixelated Gaben met his end many times before l I realized that the slightly darker platforms weren’t solid.
The sound design is exactly what you’d expect. Repetitive techno-esque track that plays on a short loop? Check. Not overly infuriating game over sounds that you’ll hear a lot? Check. Satisfying noises from enemy/environment breakage? Check. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s also not painful to listen to. If you’re looking for a lot of variation in the sounds and music you’ll be hearing all the way through or an extensive, memorable score, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The intro comic/cinematic looks like it was made in Powerpoint, with drawings picked from the pre-high school section of Deviantart. I’m almost certain this has been done intentionally, but just in case it wasn’t: it’s bad. Really bad. The actual in-game pixel art isn’t terrible, and the world map looks downright crisp and nice given what it is, but it’s nothing special overall. Despite the consistent use of the same environments through large sections of the game, it didn’t feel like I was traipsing through the exact same maze every time. Each level felt unique, which is what you want when you have 70 levels.
I really don’t think this needed the Gabe Newell coat of paint, honestly; it just made the game more intolerable to me purely because I have a neutral opinion of Lord Gaben. AAG Studio could have made Gaben a cat out to collect all the fish floating through each level, smashing into enemy mice or dogs, and it would have made as much sense design-wise. But even though I wouldn’t suggest anyone go out of their way to but Gaben Kingdom, if you’re the type that needs a fun, $1.99 time-sink or likes giggling at any and all snarky media dedicated to Gabe Newell, I don’t see why you wouldn’t pick this up.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A Brave Newell World
Audiovisual - 3/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Addictiveness - 7/10
Gaben Kingdom is an addictive little time waster that I would only recommend picking up if you don’t really have anything else to do. If AAG Studio ever repackages this game with a non-Newell flavour, then I’ll be interested.