Gish: ANBUKaptain’s Lament

So I was finding world 3 difficult once again, and I started thinking that maybe I’d stand a better chance of getting through it if I played on Easy difficulty. Reluctant to start over and lose my progress, I sought online to see what difference it made. My guess was seven lives instead of five. The truth: infinity lives.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You still get only five lives per game, after which you can continue, but your score starts back at zero. But that hardly matters to a score-ignorer like myself. The big difference is that when you run out of lives and continue, you continue from the beginning of the level, not the beginning of the world as in Medium difficulty. This makes the number of lives per continue unimportant. Suddenly, legitimate incremental progress is possible! You still have to make it through each level within a single life, but with as many do-overs as you need. Even a player who aims to finish on the highest difficulty setting would find this useful as a practice mode. And as a result, I’m already partway into world 5, which may be the last one. (Steam’s description says something about “34+ story levels”, and there are seven levels per world, so. I suppose the vagueness is justified by the presence of “warp zones” off the main track.)

Now here’s the fun part: This is the page where I learned the above. This person really doesn’t like the game at all, and has fairly detailed complaints, although they mostly come down to the same thing: that the game provides insufficient guidance in the use of its frankly unusual mechanics — or, less charitably, “I didn’t figure stuff out, and I’d rather blame the author than myself”. Either way, there was a communication failure there that I think I’ve mostly avoided.

He’s somewhat coy about exactly what he didn’t figure out, and I don’t really understand why, considering that these are anti-spoilers he’s talking about, information that makes the game worse if you don’t have it, as his own experience shows. I will say what he does not: Gish has the ability to throw small blocks. You do this by getting the block on top of Gish (by turning sticky and rolling over it like a katamari), then, when its weight is deforming you, stop being sticky and tense up to resume your shape. There’s one part in world 4 where you have to get three blocks (out of a larger number available) up onto a ledge that Gish can jump to easily, but not while carrying a block: “carrying” means sticking to it, and turning sticky tends to adhere you to the floor and prevent you from jumping. ANBUKaptain apparently got past this by painstakingly building a staircase out of blocks and then somehow hauling blocks up it without pulling it apart — only to then get killed later in the level and start over again. This is clearly the wrong way to do it, not least because it’s less fun.

So, why did I discover this capability that he did not? I can state right off that I did not discover it because I was looking for it. It’s just the sort of thing that you notice while noodling around — playing with the game, as opposed to just playing it. But my usual approach is quite goal-oriented, and I can easily imagine myself in ANBUKaptain’s shoes. I suspect the real difference is I replayed the first two worlds so may times, partly as a result of putting the game away for months at a time, partly because I was trying to find all the secret areas, partly because of the crashing. When you play through the same stuff over and over again, your brain starts looking for shortcuts, more efficient ways to do stuff. You become less methodical, more willing to take risks. There’s one bit in world 3 involving a series of hanging platforms over a lava pit; the first time I encountered them, I carefully jumped from one to the next, but eventually I discovered that you don’t even need to jump: get a running start, and you can just barrel over the lot, carried over the gaps by your momentum. I’m willing to bet that ANBUKaptain never made that leap. I probably wouldn’t have in other circumstances.

In fact, there’s one bit where I rather think I did miss the point until later. The world 4 boss chases you back and forth in a hallway whose ceiling sports three large stone blocks with crumbly blocks underneath them, supporting them. There was a similar set-up back in world 2, where I had passed it by jumping up, clinging to the crumbly blocks, and breaking them by tensing up and increasing my weight (and then getting out of the way quickly before I was crushed). The world 4 boss level makes this approach impractical: the ceilings are just a little too high to jump to, and the tiles around the crumbly ones are slippery ones, making it impossible to just climb the wall and move horizontally. I had notions of pushing loose blocks underneath so I could jump from a higher vantage, but my adversary kept pushing them away. At some point in this process, though, I discovered that I could demolish the crumbly tiles by throwing the loose blocks at them — difficult to do with any precision while you’re being chased, but easier than the alternative. And I suddenly understood something I hadn’t before: why there was a loose block sitting under those crumbly tiles back in level 2. I was supposed to have used it the same way.

So, the lesson here is to trust Edmund McMillen. If you’re doing something difficult and tedious, there’s probably a better and faster way. If you find a loose block, it has a purpose. And this suddenly makes me rethink another place where I found a seemingly-purposeless block, sitting on a sliding floor piece that I needed to shift but had difficulty getting a purchase on. I had gotten through that through awkward shuffling and stickiness, but now I suspect there’s a more elegant solution involving Newton’s Third Law.

1 Comment so far

  1. Michael on 22 Feb 2011

    I like your elegant definition of “anti-spoilers”. Well put!

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