The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Game Review)

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what this game is and why it's such a delight, I need to say this: play it.

Wisth The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit being a 2 hour, free-to-play, single player adventure on PS4, Xbox One and PC, you're basically being gifted a half-evening's worth of a wonderful experience, suitable for anyone that just loves a good story.

*Minor spoilers ahead*

Made by Dontnod Entertainment, the developers of the BAFTA winning game, Life is Strange, Captain Spirit is a spin-off that also preludes to Life is Strange 2. You play as Chris, a 9-year old whose mother recently died, resulting in his father becoming a full time alcoholic. Utilising his unlimited imagination, Chris dons his superhero persona, Captain Spirit, who has the power of making the world a bit more bearable. You play as Captain Spirit in the same view as how Chris sees his heroics in his own imagination, being a vessel of escapism from his depressing home life. 


Don't think that means this is like an episode of Riverdale (a dimly bland teen drama show, for those who don't know), because not only is the character of Captain Spirit the product of a child's imagination, it's fully expressed into the game's soul. The studio and Unreal Engine logos building up to the title screen are styled with paper-crinkled crayon colouring, that's replicated by the look of the quick-time commands. The opening sequence greets you with audible waves of the soulfully calm acoustics and vocals of "Death with Dignity" by Sufjan Stevens whilst Chris is acting out a space adventure with his toys. As Chris finally assembles the components of the costume you helped design, you're treated to a delightful Sailor Moon-inspired transformation sequence going on in Chris' mind. Dontnod clearly shows how it's one of the best developers at Square Enix, being able to ready players for two hours of treading the fine line between a child's perfect world and a brutal reality. 

You're given free reign to explore the house and snowy back yard as you please, completing Captain Spirit's heroic objectives and finding bits of lore lying around, rewarding you for your dedication in finding out more about Chris and his family's backstory. Whilst taking on Captain Spirit's missions, you choose how to approach interactions with Chris' dad, if you choose to interact with him at all. This is when Dontnod's emphasis on imagination starts to punch you in the face in the same way Chris' dad would in a drunken rage. You see mundane tasks transformed into the metaphorical adventures Captain Spirit sees them as. There's The Water Eater, a water-heater like monster in the dark boiler room that Chris has to conquer his fear of entering. You see a plumbing appliance as a terrifying spirit monster he must defeat in the name of justice. Or there's Snowmancer, an supervillain snowman whom you need to retrieve your stash of fireworks in order to blow up because reasons. 

The large number of nuggets of lore and easter eggs are slightly overwhelming, with me still missing some even though I was as thorough as felt I could be in a limited time frame. However, this is part of Captain Spirit's aim to to encourage replay, being incentivised with different items and interactions you may have missed out on the first time. For example, you may not figure out the locker combination to retrieve your stash of fire works in time in order to kill the snowy super villain. You may want to have another go at solving the pin combination to unlock in-game daddy's phone in order to play Mustard Party 2, an in-game Flappy Bird recreation with a sentient hot dog. How that alone wouldn't make you want to download this is lost on me. 


Charles, Chris' dad, is wallowing in grief both at the loss of of his wife and his glory days as a high school basketball star. Infused with a balanced breakfast of beer and a bottle of whiskey, he spends the majority of the game yelling at "inferior" athletes on TV and nourishing Chris with half-empty compliments or subtle portions of verbal abuse.The relationship between the two leads is the driving force of it all but it's elevated by the choices you make as you explore to progress the story. You can cook him some mac and cheese, do chores for him or become a minor annoyance by trying to heroically evaporate his bottle of booze with your mind. 
Chris' relationship with his dad is really what makes me want to play Captain Spirit again. Even though it's clear Charles loves his son, his grief and alcoholism are getting the better of him, being made clearer with an implied incident of physical assault towards Chris. Nevertheless, how you approach your in-game daddy is still up to you. 

For me in particular, I tried to avoid doing anything that would piss Charles off too much and have him give me a bulk pack of child abuse for Christmas. It's an obvious sign of great writing when you quickly care about a young child protagonist that much, seeing a door that was dented by a drunken-fuelled punch made me fear for Chris' safety, making me want to answer a ringing phone as quick as possible before the youngster had a whiskey tumbler thrown at his head.
I ended up partly regretting how I approached my time with in-game daddy as I watched a couple of other playthroughs. In-game Daddy doesn't always act like he wants to tear off your arm in exchange for a can of Budweiser. He can be occasionally sweet, giving you a high five and agreeing that you as his son and him make a team. You'll feel dreadfully torn towards Charles in the same manner as Chris, seeing him as the parent and role model his son has always idolised whilst also hating the fact the father's grief has been turning him into someone the young hero is admittedly becoming afraid of.


Loss is of course the main theme of The Adventures of Captain Spirit that is seemingly mostly expressed through Charles; with Chris only mentioning in passing at how wonderful his mother was when finding mementos, giving us insights to the type of person she was, be it an empty perfume bottle, an art magazine cover or a soul-wrenching song from her record collection. 

There's one particular scene in the game that will stay with me for a long time. One that's a culmination of everything you'll have been learning about Chris' life up to that point. Among Chris' objectives is to make his way through a maze of his creation, reaching his valued box of treasure at the end. Up to opening the box, I was expecting some toys or pretend weapons that will continue to heighten or support his escapism. Instead, there's a photo. A younger Chris in superhero get-up being held by his beautifully smiling mother. Music begins to play again. For a short while, there's no dialogue. Chris just stares at the picture, the back of his eyes visibly turn red before a single tear trickles down his face, as mine did in tandem. He's immediately dragged back down into reality, being reminded of what he's lost. 

Loss, its ramifications and coping with it are the heart of the game, making you see yourself in Chris. We've all experienced shares of not just loss but general experiences of sadness, fear and anger that we all wish we could escape from, even when we were children, being only able to reflect what the world was based on the adults around us. Unfortunately, they sometimes let us down. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit captures that chest-clenching feeling of grief that comes with losing someone when you're young. However, it doesn't leave you to drown in dread, making sure you also focus on the happiness you shared with those who are now gone and the memories they left behind.  

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is an interactive reminder that it's okay to escape to imagination when the real world becomes too much to bear, as well as making sure you're there for those beside you who may be having an even rougher time. Though you might be the supporting pillar during a tragedy, it doesn't mean you can't ask for help. If you know where to look, friends and family will be there for you when you need them. 

Captain Spirit will do for you what the persona itself does for the game's protagonist. He'll make you smile. He'll make you cry. He'll make you remember that your only limit is your imagination. 

Rating: 9/10

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