Swoosh! When you first play Secrets of Raetikon you’ll likely spend a good five minutes just – Fwoosh! – gliding around. I did. Secrets of Raetikon has you controlling a bird so you can – Shoosh! – glide and fly around its world, enjoying the – Hoosh! – “thrill of flight”, as developers Broken Rules say.
Then after those five minutes, the “thrill” has largely worn off.
Secrets of Raetikon is essentially the single player answer to Chasing Aurora (which Broken Rules also developed), the flight based time trial and multiplayer title that launched alongside the Wii U to middling scores. If there’s one thing the game nailed, however, it was control, and Secrets of Raetikon copies these core mechanics of flapping and falling, so it’s got that going for it out the gate.
But where Chasing Aurora was all contained challenges, Secrets of Raetikon transposes the free-flight control style into a large interconnected Metroid-vania style world, tasking you with exploring its nooks and crannies in the search of keys that you’ll have to transport to a central structure. Along the way you must also hoover up golden shards, often from hidden stashes, as these are the currency with which you can open doors and ‘unlock’ puzzles in Raetikon’s world. Said puzzles often come – at least in the early snippet I played – in the form of simple pull and push physics endeavours.
Playing Secrets of Raetikon is certainly nice, the flapping and gliding on wind jets is pleasant, and being able to grab items and pull at vines is appealing, but it all appears to be largely pedestrian in this early look. Enemies are scarce, for instance, and their presence is normally more of a nuisance than a thrill. That said your ability to flutter all around means that outpacing them isn’t too hard, and does feel like the focus of enemy encounters over direct confrontation.
In fact, our avian character has no way to directly attack opponents, at least not successfully, so the focus here falls to a more pacifist approach. If you really want to tussle then you’ll need to find a weapon within the map. Pulling a creeper from the ground will often reveal a ball of spikey weeds that you can brandish as a make-shift mace to swing at your aggressors, but this is a touch messy and only drives home that avoidance is the better choice.
One great scene I saw really took this to heart. It had me trying to avoid a pair of cat-like creatures that were using branches to chase me. I had to try and predict their movements while navigating the tree leaves, as hitting these would slow me down and the creature’s teeth would be clamped on me in no time. It was exciting, and scenes like this did enthuse the flight controls with that initial sense of thrill again as you judge when to flap and when to glide under a branch.
The overall problem with the ‘thrill’, from my perspective, is all in the camera and the ground thump. The camera is just a little too close to allow for truly spontaneous and beautiful flight choreography, and the environments too restrictive to really let you feel the rush of a hundred foot aerial dive with last second pull up. There’s no punishment for hitting the ground either, at least not in this build, which dampens the worry – and by effect, the thrill – of skilful flight.
Chasing Aurora managed to synthesize this thrill of flight through its challenge format as it forced you to play gracefully to earn the top medals. Comparable indie Metroid-vania Aquaria encourages a similar style of control thrill through putting you in unimaginably large, awe-inspiring environments. Super Mario World’s Cape nails the appeal of a dive and rise through tight control, and the punishment of losing flight if you hit the ground. At least for now Secrets of Raetikon makes flight a bit too simple, and its environments a touch too claustrophobic, to match the appeal of similar functions in other games. It’s just a bit, well, it’s just not terribly exciting. It’s a bit mundane. A bit too simple. Except in bits like that ‘run away from the savage dog things’; that’s excellent.
Therein lies the irritation. There are glints of excellence – even in my short time with Secrets of Raetikon, I could see smart design and interesting elements of control – but the thrill of its flight makes way for mundane button tapping after a very short honeymoon period. Quite how they could spice it up, I’m not sure, but if they were to manage it then the framework is here for an interesting Metroid-vania classic. As it stands it’s looking like an interestingly flawed title, with pretty paper-craft graphics. Still worth keeping an eye on; perhaps keep it in your periphery.