The Wobbler, aka Surlaw, aka PHC has made many great games over the years. As the times have changed so has he, going from traditional epic RPGs, to silly joke games and finally combining the two into a solitary macho package. As 2013 ticks away towards 2014 the times are changing again, and perhaps it was inevitable that The Wobbler would change with it, throwing his hat into that noblest of modern endeavors: the art game. Thusly was C. Kane born.
Borrowing loosely from Orson Welles motion picture Citizen Kane, C. Kane presents the story of Charles Kane, heir to his father's media empire. A tragic space accident on his 18th birthday leaves him without a father, and a trip to the Mayor's office gives him a mission of vengeance against his childhood friend, the dark wizard Gettys and his dark wizard cronies. Watching the story unfold is half the fun so I won't go into specifics, but before your quest is over you can expect to be faced with tragedy, murder, betrayal, and possibly even romance. There are multiple possible endings, so be sure to choose your actions wisely... or at least keep some extra saves handy.
It wouldn't be an art game without having a message, and his years of experience have given Surlaw plenty to say about the state of modern gaming. Everything about the game from Charles brooding inner monologue to the black and white palette to the insidiously catchy hip-hop soundtrack seem to be making a statement about something, though it isn't always clear what that something is. I'm not kidding when I say the music is insidiously catchy: I could mumble along to the battle theme for days. I'm actually pretty surprised at how nice the black and white palette is and I kinda hope that grayscale turns into the new 8-bit. Much easier on the eyes!
Perhaps the gameplay is the most interesting feature, though I guess for a game it should be. There are no random battles. Every encounter is either a miniboss or a boss, so you should save often. If you still can't figure the battles out, you can fight a shark on the minimap for an endless supply of exp and gold and a one-time supply of rare loot ala Chrono Trigger's Spekkio. This is probably my favorite innovation, offering an optional boss as a special challenge and simultaneously an optional grinding buddy to help you finish up your shopping or catch up to the opposition. It also avoids that wasted-time sensation you get when you're adequately levelled, and you feel like you have to run from random encounters to not get over-levelled. Great game design.
If you did forget to save, at least there's only one town, 4 dungeons, and a 16x10 worldmap, so getting back to where you were is never too big of an obstacle. Other designers should take note of just how effective this smaller game layout can be. If you aren't sure where to go next it isn't too big of a headache: there aren't that many options! And just because the maps are small doesn't mean there's not a unique feeling to each location and hell, that's with black and white graphics! It's not always the best choice, some projects do need just a little more room to breathe, but for a game like this it is the perfect size and way to get people to see everything you have to offer. Not to keep ranting about RPGs in general, but I got this game for free. It doesn't need hours and hours of pointless padding to make me feel like I got my money's worth.
I enjoyed pretty much every second of it. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't already have good plans for this weekend. It's a rare game where the jokes work, but don't undermine the plot and where the battles are just enough of a challenge to make you feel satisfied and not frustrated. There's a few references to Citizen Kane that are better if you know about the movie, but you don't have to have seen it to enjoy the game. There's plenty of silliness and jabs at the game industry that don't require any kind of special knowledge, and which I think would be enjoyable to practically anybody. The hip-hop soundtrack is of truly professional quality and makes the game feel perfect and complete. They even auto-tune some of the sound effects for the hell of it. It really is a great game and something I hope catches on outside the community in the same way Village People did.