When Mike Deneen recently reviewed continue?9876543210, he was of the opinion that the game is an imaginative, philosophical, and overall enjoyable game that suffers from control issues. It’s a sentiment that myself and several others have shared - at least until the most recent update made the controls significantly more friendly. Now I just think it’s great.
Problem is, it’s still easy to get lost (I mean really lost) when trying to figure it all out. Even after the addition of a dedicated in-app help section and clearer instructions there’s still a chance that new players will throw their hands up in frustration before anything clicks. We want to try and keep that from happening.
The basic gist is that you’re controlling a video game character who has died, and their player decided not to continue. Because of this their data has been dumped into a kind of Purgatory where they’ll wait for permanent deletion. Most “playersprites” make peace with their fate, but yours (of course) wants to fight for survival. So you escape from certain doom and face, well, more certain doom as you attempt to make a mad dash through several worlds that are pending deletion. continue? is a bit of a narrative stretch, but it’s not too difficult to follow if you take your time with it. Take a moment or two to read over what the other characters are saying. The phrasing might be a little unorthodox but it's far from gibberish. It’s an attempt to get all of us to stop and think about what life (and death) might be like for the digital characters we spend so much time controlling. But it’s not simply that, either. There are obvious parallels to be drawn between “deletion” and “death,” as well as the inevitability of both and the differences between accepting it and trying to fight against it. The narrative’s takeaway will vary based on the individual, of course, but I think the main point to remember is that like most things in life it's more about the journey than the destination.
On the other hand the gameplay basics are fairly obvious and many aspects of it are covered in the newly-added guide, but there are still a couple of things that new players should know going in. First, you’ve got RAM and FOO. RAM equates to your health, while FOO is your money - and in the event you come across any Car Parts, those work as extra lives. Secondly, each area consists of either four 45 second rounds or two 1 minute rounds. During these segments you’ll need to run around talking to NPCs and solving riddles in order to get the heck out of there before it’s wiped off the digital map (i.e. the end of the final round). Except for the very first level (whatever it turns out to be because areas are randomly presented for each playthrough), which only ends a round once you’ve performed 5 actions (i.e. spoken to NPCs/fought enemies). Once you’re inevitably deleted, your character is given a final score and emotion - mine was Terror the first time around, but I actually managed to get Enlightenment the last time I played - and you’re free to start again.
Certain NPCs will unlock buildings for you (for a price), and it’s these buildings that are truly important. Some will ask you to complete a sort of riddle - other outside NPCs might provide clues, so look for those red down-arrow symbols in their dialogue - and if you get the correct answer you’ll be able to pick from a rather substantial set of rewards. The same thing goes for shrines, which earn even greater rewards if handled correctly. However one of the rooms might be a trap that will severely lessen your chances of prolonging your survival, so when an NPC tells you that a particular individual will lead you into a trap you’d best pay attention.
The other more cryptic elements are LIGHTNING and PRAYER. Both can be bought from certain NPCs as well as earned for completing tasks or solving riddles, however it’s not immediately apparent what either is for. LIGHTNING is used to break apart blocks that are preventing you from reaching an area’s exit, and depending on what you’ve done to earn it (pay, solve a riddle/answer a question, return an item to a shrine, etc) you’ll get more and more random strikes that equate to a higher chance of escape. It’s worth noting that once you know you’ve opened up an exit you don’t really need to bother with LIGHTNING anymore since you already have a way out. PRAYER, on the other hand, is for your late-game. You see, after you escape from two consecutive areas you’ll be taken to a small town. Within this town are a number of buildings that you can hide in to escape deletion, and the more buildings you have the better your chances of not running out of places to hide. Every PRAYER will restore a building in this town, assuming there are empty lots available. So once you have a way out, I’d suggest pouring everything you have into PRAYER. At least until you run out of space in your little shelter town, anyway.
So what’s up with continue?9876543210? On the surface it’s a fairly simple (and beautifully surreal) adventure game that involves racing against the clock to survive and beat your high score. Beneath that is an added layer of existential theory on virtual characters as well as our own existence, along with a few elements that could even feel autobiographical depending on the player. Of course there are still many different ways to interpret the game’s more subtle themes and nuances, which is kind of the idea. So what's your take on it?