For Your Consideration: Existensis
Out of all of the games that are a part of this For Your Consideration collection, Existensis is probably the rawest. Its default resolution is 4:3; i’s controls are keyboard only and are a little clunky; there are a few things I’d do differently around the way levels remember previous visits. But with that rawness comes unfiltered, undiluted thought, translated directly from creator to metaphorical page. And with a name like Existensis, you just know it’s going to dive deep.
The first thing you’re likely going to notice, however, and it is by far Existensis’ strongest attribute, is that gorgeous artwork. It’s truly one of a kind – everything is completely hand-drawn from scratch. Every screenshot is simply divine, but that doesn’t even compare to what it’s like in motion. There’s an otherworldly, almost clockwork design to the animation that I just couldn’t get enough of over its 3-4 hour runtime.
You play as “The Mayor”, an architect in search of inspiration for their magnum opus – a massive tower built in the centre of the city. The Mayor heads off on a pilgrimage, visiting all manner of places, home to all manner of people, in search of a simple truth – what is the meaning of life and death?
Each level sports one of two paths, with each path needing what amounts to three “inspiration points” scattered across the level. These typically come from conversations with the locals, or possibly via particularly stimulating artwork found around the place. These spots double as little lore tidbits, helping you gain a glimpse into this wondrous world.
The game is broken down into multiple levels across branching paths, each of which is distinct and interesting. You will likely hit an “end” point quite quickly, with the idea being for you to jump back in and explore other possibilities. Thankfully there is little in the way of repeating content, although personally, I would choose not to need to re-find inspiration you’d already come across if I were designing things.
Played from a 2D side-scrolling perspective, the mechanics of jumping across and up platforms is more a means to an end – you won’t find any difficult platforming challenges or the like here. No, it is the conversations you have with folks across this imaginative, original high fantasy world.
Attempting to find the true meaning of life and death has been the subject of philosophical debate for thousands of years, without any knowable conclusion ever being offered. Existensis does an excellent job of not just posing the question, but spending the time trying to find a genuine answer.
Within the first 30-60 minutes, I wasn’t really sure if the game had the chops. I was expecting it to be a bit 101 philosophy, more in the vein of getting you to think about it yourself than offering anything concrete. Without getting into spoilers, the way the game attempt to do so, along with quite clever ways of tying its mechanical nature together, really upped the game in my eyes. A word of advice – seeing Existensis all the way to the end – finding the “secret” in each level and returning to a certain place – is well worth doing.
I fully acknowledge that Existensis won’t be for everyone. It’s a niche philosophical delve that some may bounce off of due to its kind of rough edges. But stick around and think about what Existensis puts forward, and you will come away with not just a few thoughtful hours, but maybe even a new appreciation for life itself.