REVIEW: Sententia

Sententia (80 MSP) is an art game, and even if it gets nothing else right, it doesn’t apologize for that fact. Nor should it. Whenever anything in the interactive medium tries for something more, either by pushing an esoteric theme or taking its gameplay on a road less traveled, I tend to get defensive, exalting the tiniest details and forgiving (or even neglecting to mention) the bigger faults.

Sententia is one of those times I’m tempted. I truly did enjoy the ‘idea’ of the game, which charts the life of a ‘special creature’ from child to adult, armed with the foreknowledge that he can create his own path through the world. In dialogue and occasional quotes, it touches on issues we’ve all pondered at some point, specifically in never forgetting your youth or imagination, and fighting for what you believe in. It has its moments. It also has some glaring issues that cannot be swept under the review rug.

An odd mashup of styles, the game alternates between its story / existentialism, platforming / light combat, and puzzle-solving via single-screen ‘stages’. In a twist, you ‘fight with words’, using them to defeat adversaries, and they you. The puzzles in the game are platforms that must be linked using your ‘imagination’, matching the number of ‘connections’ shown on each node. In theory, you see, this should be a good game. Once in action, though, it quickly goes to hell.

The problem starts in the clunky puzzle ‘building’; placing links is mostly fine, but removing connections can be a hassle. Rather than a toggle, there should have been separate buttons for each function; the middle steps are slow and unnecessary, breaking the momentum. When I’d rather quit to the menu to redo a puzzle than manually-deselect each connection, it’s a problem.

Then came the ‘punishformer’ jumps and disappearing platforms, often forcing you to leap from the exact edge of a disintegrating block in order to be successful. Other steps you find are simply illusions, leading to countless deaths as you trial and error your way into ‘learning’ the correct path. As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re usually under fire from hecklers during these tougher slogs. You can now multiply your countless deaths by ten, all due to the terrible enemy layouts, their heartless AI, and their constant, cheap respawns.

After all that (and if you’ve stuck around), add to this a final puzzle that offers no hints as to its solution, no previous example in the game on which to base its logic, where I had to sheepishly ask for help (a sincere thanks to Tristan at Clearance Bin Review) in order to finally move past it (see comments below for help), and you’ve got a game that wasn’t ready for publication, let alone a prime spot in the Uprising. What you’ve got is a twenty-minute concept that stretches out to an hour or more because of bad design.

Still, and I must stress this, Sententia is worth at least a look. Don’t worry, there isn’t some misguided plea or ‘support the arts no matter what’ speech coming. What I am saying is brief and to the point. Play the game if you’re a developer, and play the game if you’re a consumer. There’s a lesson for anyone here.

Games are and should be a passion first, but they are also a product. High Concepts and putting your heart into a project are great, but they can only take you part of the way. Fun and proper balance have to do all the heavy lifting, or your idea, as sound and unique though it may be, will buckle. Sententia is the result of placing too much burden on an idea.


Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Indie Theory

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: Sententia”

  1. Tactfully criticised, and I agree. The ideas are good but the final product doesn’t match up to its aspirations. In its tone, particularly the charming title screen, Sententia reminds me a little of Braid. Hopefully the developer doesn’t share Jonathan Blow’s attitude of “my game is a work of genius, but no one except me ‘gets’ it”.

    As an aside, am I the only person in the world who didn’t know about the chevrons on each node? I don’t remember the game mentioning them, and I didn’t notice them as anything beyond meaningless patterning. It made the puzzles insanely frustrating.

    1. Braid was a huge inspiration, I believe, if I recall an interview correctly. The game’s ending sequence reminded me of it. Loved the title screen and the music in the game especially, but yeah, it needed work. Lots of it. I’m hoping Michael is open to the criticism. And I doubt anyone can match Blow’s ego. Well, okay, I can think of a couple. 🙂 Problem is, Braid was brilliant, so unless The Witness disappoints, he’s still going to be riding high. And after what, four years already (?), it’d better be good.

      As for Sententia, the grandfather teaches you about the nodes for that first puzzle (although you can skip the dialogue entirely, which some might do), there’s hints for the second puzzle to refresh your memory, but I think you’re on your own after that, including the last puzzle, which inexplicably throws a curve ball at you. I will say this, if you play the game on a smaller TV or sit farther away from the screen, it will be hard to make out some of the nodes, I’m sure.

    2. I agree with Alan, you did an excellent job with the review here.
      I’m finding the platforming parts to be incredibly annoying and the puzzle interface to be quite unintuitive, yet, the overall feel of the concept is interesting.
      From the sounds of it I think I’m at the last puzzle (just after the “walk of faith across the chasm” screen), I’ve come up with a solution that fits the rules used in previous puzzles, but the game doesn’t accept it. There is a faint X in one of the nodes, so I’m guessing it has something to do with that, but I’m quickly running out of patience.

    3. This part’s tough, as even after I asked for (and received) help, I couldn’t get it to work. I believe you have to hold ‘X’ when you’re placing the connections (using A, of course) to that node, which is a ‘2’ with the white ‘x’. I was getting agitated myself, but the node eventually (magically? inexplicably?) turns into a ‘3’ node, and you can then solve the puzzle. You might have to do it a few times, as I don’t remember if you have to hold ‘x’ before you even select or start a link on that particular node, or only when you place it.

      Confusing? It is. And furthermore, how would anyone ever figure this out on their own, other than trial and error? It doesn’t show up anywhere else in the game. The good news is, once you’re past that, you’re almost at the end. When you encounter the woman, hold B to build, then press X to create stairs.

    4. Wow, I would honestly never have thought or that! The developer credits his players with far more patience and doggedness than we actually have to figure that one out!
      Thanks for telling me the solution, I’ll give it a try later on, as I really want to be done with this game now.

    5. Thanks. I’ve spent about 15 mins trying to get it to work with no luck. I’m going to give up and play some Gateways instead, the puzzles may be tricky in that one but at least they are logical (and work).

    6. Yes, I went through the whole first conversation with the grandfather. He explained that the nodes need to connect to a specific number of other nodes but I don’t remember him saying they were marked. I may have missed that in the recap for the second puzzle because I pressed A to speed it up and it skipped entirely.

    7. I’d have to go back to see, but you could be right in that he doesn’t directly mention the numbers. I want to remember it saying something like ‘this link / node needs one something or another, the other needs two to be happy’.

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