The basic storyline behind Gish, a new side-scrolling platform action game by Chronic Logic, may sound a bit hackneyed. When his girlfriend, Brea, is captured by an evil fiend, Gish must descend into the labyrinthine subterranean sewer world of Dross to save her – jumping from platform to platform, knocking down walls, and battling all manner of strange creatures. There’s just one catch: Gish doesn’t have arms or legs. He’s a 12-pound, animated ball of tar – and the driving force behind one of the most unusual and memorable games I’ve played this year.
Gish isn’t your average ball of tar. He has menacing yellow eyes and a fanged visage – which made him an instant hit with the kids in my house. But his simple, hand-drawn appearance belies the sophisticated physical modelling behind his movements. Gish can make himself heavier by hardening up a bit – useful when smacking into objects and bad guys. Gish can also make himself sticky, to better adhere to walls, or slick, to better ease into tight spaces.
Getting used to Gish’s physics may take some time. But once you’ve done so, these attributes make for some clever gaming. By sticking to a wall, you’ll be able to collect hidden bits of amber – the game’s currency. You can also pry stuck objects loose – for example, an impeding column – by alternately hardening and relaxing Gish’s body.
The game’s creative level design often makes use of destructible objects. For example, you can knock away blocks or entire walls to reveal new passages. Occasionally, you’ll even unlock secret levels similar to those in classic video games such as Pitfall and Super Mario Brothers.
Gish offers several additional game modes to keep things interesting. The Collection mode is a timed puzzle game in which you must retrieve as many globs of amber as you can before the clock runs out. Versus mode lets you compete against another player on the same computer. This offers a variety of unusual games that make full use of Gish’s physical properties – for example, there’s Sumo, in which two players try to knock each other off a floating platform; Greed, where the player who collects the most amber wins; and a racing game called Dragster. Alas, Gish doesn’t support gaming over a network. But sitting next to your opponent can be more fun, anyway.
Gish is complemented by an eclectic and enjoyable soundtrack – though the game’s other sound effects are a bit sparse. Gish requires a 1GHz machine or better and OS X 10.1 or later.
Gish is an absolutely top-notch game that shows just how creative and imaginative an independently developed and published game can be. Download the demo and give Gish a try.