Dakko Dakko’s beautiful, eccentric, Shintoist PSP Mini shooter Floating Cloud God Saves The Pligrims is ready for release and we’ve spent the past few days held in its thrall.
The game – designed by Rhodri Broadbent (architect of PSN’s PixelJunk series from Q-Games and, more recently, of The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus) with art from Hookshot Inc.’s logo designer, Gary Lucken – casts you in the role of the titular cloud God.
It’s your job to protect your pilgrim followers as they make their journey across a far Eastern landscape by firing cloud bullets at the ghouls and ghosts who are trying to thwart your faithful followers’ journey. There are just two attacks in the game, one that fires ahead, and a downpour ‘bomb’ style attack, that takes out any enemies directly below you.
Certain enemies are only susceptible to one type of attack and, as your followers will die at the lightest of touch from a fiend, you must race ahead of them to clear a path through the storm of arrows and danger.
At the end of each stage you recruit a single new follower, while the game keeps a Cannon Fodder-esque record of every pilgrim that you ‘lost along the way’. It’s a simple game and yet an affecting one, the stress of protecting your charges heightened by the sad sense of loss every time you fail them, sweetened only by the arrival of a new follower every few minutes. While each pilgrim looks exactly alike, the ghostly reminder of those that have fallen on each results screen prevents you from seeing these little people as a mere resource to fuel your progress.
The ‘custody’ style of game (a genre title I just made up) in which you must protect and lead a helpless charge or charges through danger can offer some of the most powerful experiences in the medium. One of the earliest custody games was DMA’s Lemmings, in which you were tasked with saving the eponymous creatures from themselves by assigning roles to help them overcome peril. But in that game you had only a sentient, god-like mouse cursor in the world, which made the game more like a straight puzzle than an emotive journey.
Ico, by contrast, cast players as a young boy, striving to save a somewhat helpless girl by taking her by the hand and leading her through a crumbling castle. By placing the player in the world (and casting them as a fragile boy with a wooden sword) hit upon a new emotion in games.
For players who attempted to win the Little Rocket Man achievement in Half life 2 Episode 2 will have experience how infuriating it can be to carry a completely useless person (or in this case, garden gnome) through a challenging game environment. But likewise, anyone who managed it will be able to explain in passionate terms the way in which having a custodian role within the game completely altered the experience, giving it an entirely new dynamic.
Floating Cloud God Saves The Pligrims is a shooting game but it’s really as game about custody, about protecting those weaker than yourself, about, perhaps, the hopeful heartbeat of humanity that someone greater than themselves is looking out for them in a world filled with danger.
Despite its taut simplicity, the game examines loss, bereavement and faith with more quiet effectiveness than most, and adds weight to the argument that there are many jewels yet to be discovered in the custody game system.