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Review by Louisa Blatt

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review

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Charm makes this adventure worthwhile, if not quite awesome.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit may not be particularly adventurous, per se, but it has heart on its side. This free Life is Strange prequel episode centers on the relationship between a wonderfully imaginative boy and his emotionally withdrawn father, but for all the depth and humanity of its storytelling it lacks enough tough challenges or meaningful decisions to make participating feel exciting.

Dontnod’s two-hour game revolves around an innocently charming nine-year-old named Chris Erikson and his imaginary alter ego Captain Spirit as he copes with the death of his mother. The father-son dynamic is the emotional center of the story and certainly succeeded at moving me; Chris' father, Charles, clings to his basketball glory days and his beer and vents his sadness by yelling at Chris and leaving fist-sized dents in doors. (I happened to play Awesome Adventures soon after completing Detroit: Become Human, and the similar elements have me slightly concerned that “dads with substance abuse problems who scream at their children” is a troubling new gaming subgenre.) Though the story isn’t notably innovative, it’s engaging enough that I was never bored.

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Most of the gameplay consists of searching the house and crossing items off of Chris’ list of titular “Awesome Things to Do” while his father watches a basketball game on TV. The house itself feels appropriately barren to match the family’s grief and the one person you can interact with doesn’t want to interact with you, which made me feel just as lonely as Chris. Beneath the empty surface, the house is filled with little touches that help establish the mood: a perfume bottle left behind, unopened Christmas decorations, and little cartoons drawn by Chris' mom. You don’t need to have played Life is Strange or its Before the Storm prequel to enjoy Captain Spirit, but there are some Easter eggs that you’ll miss if you’re unfamiliar with them.

In his bedroom, Chris’ only limit is his imagination.

The snowy setting and cool color palette succeed in draining the warmth from every room in the home except Chris’ bedroom, which is happy and vibrant because of the sunlight filtering in. Considering that this is probably the way Chris views his own home, it's a nice touch. In his bedroom, Chris’ only limit is his imagination. His toys and posters make the place feel like a safe haven and I loved watching him play in that space.

Captain Spirit’s story is revealed almost solely through exploration. As you climb up a treehouse and snoop through Charles' wardrobe, you slowly learn how Chris' mom passed away and just how poorly Charles has been dealing with it. I felt accomplished having pieced things together, which went a ways toward making up for the lack of gameplay achievements available.

Chris’ imagination is often represented by a mechanic where looking at certain objects unlocks Captain Spirit's “powers,” which also makes the controller vibrate for longer than I wanted it to and with obnoxious frequency. For example, you can stare at a log in a fireplace to “make it erupt in flames,” something that reminded me of that Super Bowl commercial with the kid dressed as Darth Vader who thought he could use the Force. The “power” mechanic makes some sense in the log example, but it makes less sense to have to call upon superpowers to just put on a cape. Though it's usually annoying, seeing Chris’ imagination in action is endearing enough that I generally forgave it. Captain Spirit hits the nail on the head when it comes to capturing the mind of a kid.

This is the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in a Life is Strange game.

The items on Chris’ list of awesome things range from fighting “The Snowmancer” – a snowman in the backyard decorated with cigarette butts – to hitting beer cans with snowballs (a cute nod to the original Life is Strange) to defeating Captain Spirit's arch nemesis, the evil “Mantroid.” I had expected that confrontation to be the climax of the story, but because you can cross the tasks off the list in any order I ended up facing him early. That was anticlimactic in of itself, and doubly so because the Mantroid encounter mostly consists of walking slowly forward while a scary voice taunts you and ends with little recognition of your accomplishment. On the other hand, this sequence takes place in the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in a Life is Strange game, so walking slowly forward gave me the time I needed to take it all in.

Disappointingly, none of these quests contain any of the difficult decisions that I’ve come to expect from Life is Strange. There is an element of challenge because the puzzles require you to pay attention to the environment, but it’s not enough to feel like a true adventure. However, if you stop looking at Captain Spirit as a standalone adventure and start looking at it as a prequel to Life is Strange 2, this lack of action makes more sense. It then becomes the calm before the inevitable storm rather than a lull itself.

The Awesome Adventures finally finds its tension in the last five minutes of gameplay with an event that, while interesting, occurs a little too abruptly and without adequate time for exploration. Then again, considering it ends in a “to be continued…” cliffhanger screen, it’s almost certain that Dontnod will explore it further in Life is Strange 2 (which debuts on September 27), and I definitely want to keep playing to find out more.

The Verdict

Strong characters and environmental storytelling make The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit enjoyable overall. Despite the main objectives being underwhelming and the decisions seeming weightless, I became invested in the outcome of the story thanks to Chris’ lovable sense of wonder against a well-painted dreary backdrop. Captain Spirit makes me optimistic about what's to come in Life is Strange 2.

Good
While it's short on choice and tension, charm makes The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit worthwhile.
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The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit