Fly around a magnificent alpine landscape in search of ancient treasure.
PC Release: Jan 7, 2014
By Ian Coppock
The one time I pre-order a game, and it turns out to be the worst PC port in years.
Rocksteady shat the bed on that Arkham Knight port, didn’t they? Yup. They sure did. There I was, staying up until midnight on a Monday to play something I couldn’t wait to get my hands on, only to be greeted by endless crashes and bugs. The Caped Crusader was getting dropped down to single-digit framerates every time I tried to drive the damn Batmobile. When this happened, a red haze fell over my eyes, and… I forget the rest.
So, anyway, after that horrendous experience, I needed to journey to a faraway land of relaxing tranquility, at least until Rocksteady releases the actual PC version of Arkham Knight. That’s where Secrets of Raetikon, a side-scrolling platformer, came in.
Secrets of Raetikon is actually spelled with one of those Nordic a-e thingies that looks like the two letters are conjoined like Siamese twins, but I don’t have that on my keyboard, so we’ll stick with Raetikon for now. The game is an arty, side-scrolling indie platformer whose developers have a neurotic fixation with triangles. Consequently, everything in this game looks like origami, including our main protagonist, a little orange bird.
Right off the bird, the game tells you that it has been optimized for a gamepad and that this is what you should use for the best experience. A PC game optimized for a controller, that’s… well, okay. Moving on, the game starts off with our little feathered friend dropping out of the sky, and taking off into a gorgeous wilderness that looks like it was made out of living construction paper. Your “goal” in the game is to fly around this massive alpine paradise, collecting gems that in turn unlock ancient artifacts that in turn unlock a machine that ends the game.
That’s pretty much the whole plot of the game. This is another one of those instances in which I found a game I like more for its visual beauty than its narrative, but bear with me, because I still had an enjoyable time with this one.
The game is a bit more complicated than the premise I gave, but not much. Basically, the game world is divvied up into seven or eight different areas. Your job is to scour each of these regions for silvers, which are little triangular jewels. Once you have enough of these, you then need to fly over to the nearest ancient animal statue, plug your silvers into the coin slot, and watch as the statue releases a shiny triangular artifact.
Does that make sense? Good, because Secrets of Raetikon sure as shit doesn’t tell you any of this itself. It offers the most bare-bones tutorial on how to play the game, but everything else you have to infer for yourself. It tells you to collect the silvers, but it doesn’t tell you why the artifacts are important or what you’re supposed to do with them. Eventually I figured out that you need to plug eight artifacts into some giant machine, but this was through more inference than I thought necessary. This is a recurring problem I’ve noticed with indie games lately; they’re just too vague.
The controls for this game aren’t exactly smooth, either. The bird can flap his little wings to swing into the sky or dive-bomb into the dirt, but it’s unreasonably difficult to maintain control of these functions, even when you’re not caught in one of numerous wind currents. Secrets of Raetikon also takes time to educate you on more complicated functions that only produce the same result. You can gain health by ripping saplings out of trees, or by retrieving an egg and returning it to a nest to hatch it into a baby bird. Thanks, but especially since there are more saplings around, I’ll just go with the two-second approach instead of the 20-second one.
The worst part of this game’s control scheme is the combat. Throughout Secrets of Raetikon, you’ll find hostile animals waiting to feast on your feathers, and the entire forest goes apeshit whenever you’ve retrieved one of those artifacts. Hawks will dive-bomb you, lynxes will leap at you, and all the while your only recourse is to spam the flap button and hope for the best. If there is combat in this game, it was completely unexplained.
It’s a good thing that Secrets of Raetikon is so pretty, else I would’ve thrown a game with this many problems out the window and gone back to GTA V. For all its gameplay vagueness and unexplained objectives, the game is truly beautiful. You’ll get lost in its brightly colored, triangular artwork, and the visuals are complimented by a light musical score comprised of flutes, hand drums, and a few strings here and there. It’s a gorgeous audio-visual experience with lush environments that just pop, if that makes sense.
On top of that, the game’s level design isn’t bad. Each area contains a lot of nooks to explore, and getting from one end of an area to another is pretty intuitive. You also have some sort of crazy telepathic bird call that tells you where (roughly) the silvers you need are floating. Secrets of Raetikon is hamstrung by its lack of a map, though. You don’t have any sort of chart linking these areas together, so you have to either make your own or memorize the routes from one area to the next. But, there’s only like seven of them, and I have a good short-term memory, so I personally didn’t find this to be an issue.
As I said up top, your goal is to fly around collecting silvers so that you can unlock these artifacts. Once you’ve found them, you have to hook them to your talons and fly back to a central area, all the while getting heckled by the wildlife. This is where the game’s funnest challenge kicks in, as you have to endure a gauntlet of pissed-off animals in order to return to the game’s hub. They’ll try their damndest to get the artifact away from you, so you have to be nimble. I just wish the game told me why the little critters were so ticked.
Along the way, Secrets of Raetikon presents small shreds of backstory in the form of ancient stone tablets, written in a Norse-looking language. You have to translate these tablets with runes that you can dig up in the various maps, but again, this game shoots itself in the foot. The runes are by no means English letters, but they look similar enough that I was often able to just read them without having to look for the runes. Once again, Secrets of Raetikon is hamstrung by inference.
These tablets tell tales of the ancient empire that built the statues you need the artifacts from, but most of them are too little, too late for any sort of effective exposition.
The last and biggest problem I had with Secrets of Raetikon is that it has a true WTF ending. If you don’t like spoilers, skip down to the next paragraph, but since the ending has no bearing on literally anything else in the game, I’ll just tell you: it ends with a game of pong. Yep. A forest adventure ends with a retro round of pong, and then cuts to black once it’s over. Well, that’s a shitty payoff. Maybe I’m not hipster enough to understand it, but I had a crinkled brow during the entire run of the credits afterwards.
So what do we learn from Secrets of Raetikon? We learn that a game can’t quite get away with being mechanically shitty even when it’s visually pretty. It’s like a 7-Eleven donut; really pretty and sugary on the outside, without much substance to speak of on the inside. I enjoyed the game, for what it’s worth, and it’s not the worst platformer I’ve ever played, but I don’t recommend it unless you have a perpetual hard-on for indie platformers and find this one on sale for like five dollars. It still wasn’t enough to do away with the pain of a slow Batmobile.
There are two things I’ve learned in my time on this earth: don’t drink and drive, and don’t pre-order video games.
You can buy Secrets of Raetikon here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.