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Indie Games Uprising III: Sententia

With Sententia, MichaelArts leads its audience into a playful land that’s meant as an interactive picture book, where the child in our hearts can take flight. This is aesthetically shown in the contrast between the title cards carrying philosophical quotes (the pessimistic adult), shown between scenes like in a silent movie, and the in-game colours and exploration (the imaginative child).

These artistic concepts continue in the explanation of interaction. Via written conversation, clues are granted as to how progress can be made. The start button, for example, is contained within the hand drawn image on the welcome screen, moving arrows drawing the eyes attention to it. Once in the world, you’re asked “’Y’ don’t you talk to Grandpa?” to get the ball rolling.

As this journey of discovery leads the playable child deeper into the woods there are a series of bridges that need to be constructed through the power of imagination. You’re presented with a number of small rotating pentagons, each marked with a Roman numeral that dictates how many connections must be made from each one to solve the puzzle.

Upon beginning to construct a bridge, the sounds of the world fade into an ambient lull as the leaves slowly fall from the trees. This is a particular moment when the world and ideas combine in an engaging manner. And as the boy grows older so do his surroundings, the world becoming withered and aged, the baby bird now old and scowling, the spider now a predator.

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Whilst this is a fine idea, building is cumbersome due to awkward controls that’ll add a connection when trying to delete one or select the wrong pentagon. The backgrounds are repeated and there’s little variation in design, especially in the sound which is truly lacking.

The deficiency of sound effects makes it difficult to feel fully enthralled; sound is a storyteller and its scarce use is problematic. There’s a musical score playing throughout but this works more to cover this absence rather than act as a mood setter.

The picture book pages continue to fray due to the mechanics of movement. Jumping is sluggish and misplaced leaps from one platform to the next are common. The child character will respawn but it’s still a break in the motion. This becomes all the more common as blocks of land begin to fall away as you land on them and others vanish, forcing further frustration. Animation is basic too, so you’re unsure if it was a mistimed leap or the collision detection was way off.

Akin to the niche music genres that rotate around styles such as full blown electronic noise and free-jazz, whose creators often have a much more personal adventure in these performance arts and its creation than the audience does, Sententia is an idea ran to its natural conclusion: an independent showcase of one man’s ideas that, unfortunately, its audience will struggle to appreciate in the same way.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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