Passage is a short, fantastically unique game by computer programmer and game designer, Jason Rohrer. The 8-bit game, which is a piece of art comparable to that of paintings or literature, has been around for several years. Originally a free download for PC, the game was ported to iOS in 2008 after receiving widespread, critical acclaim.
The game is basically a representation of life and love, and a poignant reminder of the passing of time. Your character is a boy, whose entire lifetime plays out in your hands. Passage lasts only 5 minutes; there are no elements of danger in the game, no enemies whom present a risk to your life, there is simply the inevitability of death, and you as the player cannot change that. This, however, is what makes this particular game so interesting. There are several different things to do in the game, several different choices to make, and you must decide what to do with your five minutes of gameplay.
When the game begins, the first thing you’ll notice is the display. The game is presented through a letterbox-esque window, each end of which is blurred, so that visibility is very minimal. The game is set in a maze which continues on and on infinitely, increasing in complexity as the character travels south, and with various different scenes and areas to explore — which look splendid in their 8-bit, pixelated form — as the character travels east. This maze can be navigated through the movement of your character using the four-way directional buttons located underneath the ‘letterbox’ display.
The second thing you’ll notice is that you’re not alone, there is another character present when you begin the game. When you approach this other character, a red love heart encompasses the two of you and from that point on this character becomes your spouse and accompanies you on your journey through life. However, by joining in matrimony with this character, you are no longer as agile, and navigating the maze below becomes much more difficult; you can no longer pass through the same, small gaps as before since now you are marred by the presence of your new spouse by your side.
You do not have to ‘marry’ this character, however, and can, instead, decide to navigate the maze alone, collecting treasure chests along the way which give you points. These points contribute to your overall score, which is also added to with each and every step that you take to the east (the rate of points is doubled if you are traveling with your spouse by your side). Here is the dilemma: not every treasure chest contains points, and the amount of points that you will be able to gather from treasure chests in one sitting of the game is almost directly proportional to the amount of points you will receive for traveling as far east as possible in the game, with your spouse. This means that the amount of points that you will receive is not particularly influenced by your decision to marry the other character or not.
So what do you do? Do you go on a treasure hunt, alone, knowing that in five minutes, death will overcome you and all of those points will become irrelevant? Or do you marry the other character and seek treasure with her, aware that your attempts will be futile, often resulting in you being positioned mere steps away from a treasure chest, but being unable to open it on account of your spouse’s presence? You could always ignore the other character and explore this changing, infinite world alone, right? Or should you alternatively marry the character, and explore the world together, gaining double the amount of points that you would receive if you did so alone?
As already mentioned, the game features very pixelated graphics, but that’s what makes it so beautifully simple. It’s reminiscent of the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, evoking a sense of nostalgia and fondness for those simpler days when Super Mario ruled the world. But regardless of this wealth of pixelation, the graphics are beautifully detailed. The progression of time in the game is portrayed through the progressively aging appearance of your character, who evolves from a young, blonde boy to an elderly, balding gentleman, all of which is crystal clear from the wonderfully elementary graphics. The setting of the game is beautiful, providing an everlasting myriad of interest which is again complimented by Rohrer’s use of 8-bit graphics.
Passage is a beautiful game; as in life, there are many choices, but what Rohrer seems to be trying to convey is the sense of inevitability which is present in all of our lives, and that no matter what we do, we will all unfortunately perish, and so it is our own responsibility to make our ‘five minutes’ count, and to make the best of them. Granted, there isn’t a lot to do in the game in terms of gameplay, but it is ultimately a metaphor of life, and one that is fascinating and enjoyable to play over and over again. All of this, combined with it’s 59p (99¢) price tag renders Passage a worthwhile experience for any iPhone owner!
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