When people think of video games, a lot of times they’ll gravitate toward high-energy, quick-paced action games. It’s not surprising – it’s definitely what I grew up with, anyway. But lately I’ve found myself wanting to explore more of the side of gaming that lets us calm down, explore, and experience art. Which is why when an email for Gilp Studios’ Areia showed up in my inbox, I was excited to get in and explore.
Areia, made in the vein of games such as Journey, promises a meditative, relaxing journey through emotional and spiritual growth. While it draws heavily on Hinduism and Buddhism, there isn’t really a religious aspect, as much as simply a spiritual one – something the makers of Areia sought to make sure that the game is relevant to any player.
Your main mechanic is building pathways. With the ability to combine water and earth together to build temporary paths, the player has the ability to build momentary bridges to great heights or across far distances. Each stage requires you to strategically look for where you can build a path, where it will lead, and slowly make your way across the world.
Areia’s landscapes are nothing short of breathtaking. At first, it may seem claustrophobic and unwelcoming as you cross fields of glass shards against ferocious sandstorms. Soon, however, the world opens before you. The sands glitter beneath your feet while secrets sparkle brightly in the distance, inviting you to come closer. The winds howl, and waterfalls trickle, and at some points a thunderstorm even opens up. Each new stage is gorgeously different from the last. These are places just begging to be discovered.
Unfortunately, the controls almost punish the player for trying to do so. In a strange twist of the usual, Areia has incredibly intuitive controls and teaches you the few things you might not guess on your own. Any player who’s touched a controller before could likely pick it up and understand how to move and jump. But the intuitive controls aren’t enough to change the fact that the player character moves so slowly – particularly for a game that relies so heavily on platforming mechanics. It just doesn’t feel enjoyable – especially if you need to redo any section. You also can’t really explore the way the game promises – so many things are closed off to you and really you only have your path to follow.
While the platforming sections are often a little bit of a slow struggle, the meditation puzzles are quite cathartic and simple enough to work out. I tended to look forward to finally reaching these sections so I could enjoy the puzzle and make my way toward the next beautiful part of Areia’s world. During these moments, I loved the game and wondered if perhaps I was being a bit too nitpicky. But as soon as I was back to platforming my way across the next level, I felt the frustration all over again.
That said, the awkward speed and lack of fluidity are the only things I really disliked about playing Areia. If you can ignore that (or aren’t bothered by it in the first place), you’ll find yourself taking a journey through a lovely world. It gives you plenty of space and time to relax and enjoy playing.
If you’re looking for a platformer with nice speed, or the freedom of exploration, this might not be the best choice. If you’re looking for a meditative experience, traveling through an empty world at a relaxed pace, it might be worth checking out for you. For me, I found my feelings a little too mixed to enthusiastically recommend it, but it certainly is a wonder to look at and listen to.
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance