The weird case of a reckless disregard for naming conventions

When I started thinking about weird games to write about for this column, the first one that jumped from my memories as an accidentally fascinating experience was AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!: A Reckless Disregard for Gravity.

Aaaa! is a first person, alternate reality game about base jumping — a sport consisting of jumping out of high buildings and, at some point, opening a parachute so you don’t die when landing. In its universe, floating “polystructures” appeared in the skies in 1982, cities expanded vertically to reach them and that’s where we jump from.

Released closely after Mirror’s Edge, Aaaa! is a lot less concerned with keeping you looking ahead, it’s a sequence of frenetic falls towards the ground. It’s like parachuting in Pilotwings… But on a lot of cocaine, with a generic 90’s metal soundtrack.

There’s, in fact, a lot of that 90’s feel to Aaaa! From it’s industrial look with textures that reminded me of Unreal Tournament to the mall punk spirit that seems to permeate the tone of the menus and the announcer. For example: you get extra points for giving fans a thumbs up mid-fall as well as giving detractors of you a middle finger. This generic extreme-sports feel (something that also reflects a decade that gave us Power Rangers jumping out of planes with snowboards and the X-Games) also defines the visuals and mechanics of the game.

The Dreamcast Effect

It would be futile to go on talking about the nostalgia that AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! evokes in me if I didn’t use this space to talk about the Dreamcast Effect. The Dreamcast Effect is a strange phenomenon in the videogame world in which a game that wasn’t made for Sega’s last console gives you the sensation that it is a forgotten gem of the Dreamcast’s library. This is a completely subjective effect and only happens to those who’ve had contact with Dreamcasts in the wild (or their homes), but it happens to a large number of individuals who can usually agree on which titles seem to produce the effect.

I couldn’t quite define the characteristics of a game that made it a possible victim/carrier of the effect, so I decided to talk to Heitor De Paola, from Overloadr, to ask him for a hypothesis of what makes a game an honorary member of the Dreamcast library.

“There’s something in Dreamcast games, or at least in games of a certain era of the console, that I believe was never replicated in other games. Almost as if the whole design was born out of a single idea and the game was built around it independently of the size or longevity it could have.
Maybe I’m idealizing them, but there didn’t seem to be a concern with commercializing those games (which doesn’t seem absurd given Sega’s fate post-Dreamcast). It was just creative ideas that became concret. Which also brings with it a few problems: even some of the most interesting games of that console were intriguing for a few days, but you’d drop them quite soon. Seamen, Space Channel 5, etc. Even Jet Set Radio, I have the impression that few people went much deeper than the first level on that. It’s like it was enough for them. But that gave the Dreamcast this touch of weirdness that no other console had — and that I believe, to this day, it’s something mostly Japanese developers knew how to make — but it’s rare to see that now.”

A weird nostalgia for something I did not live

Aaaa! is this intriguing combination of a lot of elements from my childhood, but put together in an equally new and welcoming way. The menus are not practical (it’s normal for them to require two clicks just to keep playing, and not a double click, I mean clicking on a level and then selecting the “play” button, the level selector is just a screen filled with tiles in all directions, etc), the soundtrack reminds me of Offspring in Crazy Taxi, all the bands I didn’t know in the Tony Hawk soundtracks and that song with cool use of a choir that a bunch of late-90’s action movies used in their trailers.

Before I wrap up, there’s one last weirdness that I should point out: Aaaa! isn’t just one game. It was actually released twice (three times if you count the iOS only sequel that I never played). AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!: A Reckless Disregard for Gravity was rereleased as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome with all the content of Reckless with an addition of 43 levels. Both releases are on Steam as of this writing.

Random weird stuff

There’s a DLC pack for …for the Awesome with short levels called You Will Eventually Come to a Point in Your Life Where You Appreciate Christmas Mall Music.

…for the Awesome has support for the Oculust Rift dev kit and that sounds nauseating and intriguing in equal parts.

There are meditation and “anti-meditation” levels.

The level names are very creative and Dadaistic (i.e.: “We’re Moving On Up To The East Side Because We’re Rich” and “Highway To Helllll With Five L’s”).

To almost graze a building is called a kiss and to keep yourself near a wall while falling is called a hug. The game reminds you of these maneuvers to score extra points with the onscreen tip: Kisses + Hugs = Win.

Weirdly similar games or similarly weird games

1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby) is a title from Dejobaan Games (developers of Aaaa!) that re-uses the same premise and mechanics. The controls are simplified, though, and all you use is your mouse to look/aim your fall. It has prettier graphics and a more colorful and plastic looking visual style. It generates levels based on music files (like Audiosurf) and had everything to make it better than the Aaaa! games, but constantly restarting long levels (they’re as long as a song and that’s a bit much for a fall) becomes boring easily. It was first made available in alpha stage and it was very different back then.

Pilotwings 64 is another 3D game about falling a lot and I love its soundtrack. I’ve been writing about videogames and this was the first opportunity I had to recommend this under loved game, so I took it.

The original version of this article was published on Red Bull Games Brasil.

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