Saying sex and video games have an odd relationship is beyond putting it lightly. At its most graphic, it still looks a lot like two mailboxes slamming into each other. You know what I’m talking about — those dead eyes, the plastic-looking bodies, the thick strands of unrealistic hair. Ever played Mass Effect, son? You did not become a man by watching that scene, I’ll tell you that much. Anyway, the idea of someone taking relationship/sex advice from games is enough to give folks nightmares, but there is a game out there that is trying to convey sex in a mature, less creepy way. Tale of Tales’ Luxuria Superbia is trying to do just that, and while it’s mainly symbolic about the act, it can be pretty overt in some ways as well. I have played and seen some crazy things in my day, but I think this is the first game to make my face turn bright red at the thought of getting caught playing it.
Luxuria Superbia seems to have come out as a counter idea to how we typically interact with our games. Since I have gotten off work, I think I have killed at least one to two hundred things. I have shot, stabbed, and stomped out many a life, and they sought to do the same thing to me. These games and I, we don’t seem to get along very well, do we? Well, Luxuria Superbia asks its players to be gentle with it, to go easy and slow. You’re supposed to take your time and do what the game likes, but not go fast and hard as most games would have you do. It asks you to take your time and savor the journey from beginning to end. It wants to be friends with you. Maybe more than that.
All right, well what does all that crap mean? Well, the gameplay is pretty straightforward if you’ve played Dyad or other tunnel shooters games. Your task is to move down these tunnels, touching various flowers along the way. The tunnel starts off as white, but the more you touch one side with the pointer and collect flowers on it, the more it fills with color. To get the best score, you need to fill all of the walls of the tunnel with color and keep them that way for as long as possible. The kicker is that if you fill one wall with too much color, then the game goes into a hyper speed mode where collecting more than a flower or two causes the level to end. Prematurely (See what I did there?).
It’s not especially hard to keep the levels going. While playing with a controller I found that I could make my pointer disappear completely if I just left the control stick alone. The pointer isn’t always on screen, but rather only appears if you’re holding it in one direction. If one side of the tunnel is turning white, all I had to do was push in that direction and the pointer would appear, letting me collect flowers. If it was about to be too much color, I just had to release the stick to make my pointer disappear before things got all crazy. The only real challenging part is ignoring that voice in your head that comes from years of playing games; the voice that tells you to collect all of the things and rush through the levels. Finishing a level early means you’ve lost, and the object is to stay in the game while still collecting the most points.
So, how is floating down a tunnel in a game supposed to simulate sex? Well, the art design doesn’t seem to leave too much to question. I’ve heard that these tunnels are all designed around flowers, and maybe this is some secret Rorschach test that is telling me something about myself, but those images don’t look like any flowers I’ve ever seen. Also, when you fill the tunnels with color, typically reds of varying hues, they look like…do I have to spell it out for you? Pinkish-red tunnels where you have to touch the sides in just the right way? Where you’re thrusting down the tunnel? Sure, there are flowers inside of it that you have to collect because this is a game and games have you collect things to show progress, but the overall look of the game made its sexual nature seem pretty clear to me.
That and the stuff the game says to you while its playing. As you progress down the tunnel, faint words will appear in the middle of the screen. It’s not the kind of stuff you’ll hear on a late night with your computer when your girlfriend’s out of town, but some of it is pretty unmistakable. I don’t think there’s many alternate interpretations of “You on top of me”, “Get behind me”, or “Lick me” I literally looked up from the computer and checked if anyone was around after the last one. So, in case you think I was reading too much into a game about touching flowers, or that the developers were doing too much artsy dancing around the subject, they come out and say it pretty clearly with the words that fly by.
Those aren’t the only sort of things the game says. It is trying to be classy with its subject matter, so it’s not all lines taken from stag films. A lot of it can get downright strange, especially in the fourth level where it started asking me to arrange the dishes and things like that. I’m not super clear on what that symbolism is supposed to mean, or if the game is trying to simulate a shift from a purely sexual relationship to one that’s more domestic (like wedded life), so I’d have to play more than the demo to really understand what’s going on. These are the guys behind The Path and The Graveyard, though, so I wasn’t expecting anything they did to be all that clear. This is actually probably the closest thing they’ve ever made to a straightforward video game, with objectives and levels and all that stuff.
Tale of Tales has always been concerned with their games being interactive experiences that tell a story more than creating challenging games, and this game is no exception. Like I said, it isn’t especially hard to play the game well, as you just have to maintain color along the walls, and since your reticule disappears when you’re not touching the stick, there’s really no risk of you over-touching any one area unless you do it on purpose. I typically ended a level once I ran out of patience with it, since they seem to go on forever if you’ll let them, so you have to be a in certain mindset to want to play this game properly. Still, if you want gameplay that’s challenging in any typical sense, you probably shouldn’t bother with anything this studio makes. If you want to be left wondering about what you just experienced when the game’s done, Luxuria Superbia and just about any other game from their catalogue fits that bill.
There is a certain joy in spreading color, I won’t lie. It reminded me of Flower more than a little bit as I played, as both focused on bringing color to their games in ways that were pretty relaxing, and that the music plays a big part in the experience. The music in this game varies depending on how well you’re doing in keeping color on all the walls, and builds in intensity if you get too carried away while sliding along the walls. I’m not talking Dyad intense where changes in music feel like an assault on my person, but rather just a rise in tempo to mimic the heartbeat when you’re about to finish. The level, that is. The music’s pretty unique, and has a laid-back, kind of outer space feel to it that makes it pretty hard to describe. There’s also a little bit of a woman’s breathing that appears when you’re doing well, but it was chosen very carefully to not sound just like heavy moaning. The music really could have taken things in a cheesy or too-overt direction, and its composer, Walter Hus, must have worked pretty hard to create it.
Anyway, if you manage to do well in the game, you can enter a central hub where the color you spread there starts to bleed out from a series of pillars that represents each level. Replaying levels adds more color to this area, although the four levels in the demo didn’t really show me much by the time I was done. I suppose it’s nice to have something to show for repeat playthroughs of each level, but I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to look like or mean. I’ll have to see more of this feature to make more sense of it.
Also, I played the game on PC, but it seems much more clearly designed around touch screens. Really, there’s not much more intuitive a way to play something like this than on a touch screen, and the developers have said as much. I can only imagine how much stranger this game could get while playing it that way, as it comes a lot closer to the more tactile experience it’s shooting for. It’s a game about touching things, so it kind of only makes sense. I still enjoyed the game while playing on PC, but the definitive version might is the one for phones and tablets. God help us all if there’s an Oculus Rift version planned.
For someone looking to play something that’s different, Luxuria Superbia will definitely do that, from the looks of things. Despite not showing any actual sexual things, it manages to convey its subject matter quite well, and does so in the tasteful way that has evaded so many other developers. It feels strange to say that about a game where you fly down tunnels so you can fill them with color, but it seems to work. It’s just overt enough that its subject matter is pretty clear, but manages to be subtle enough that you might be able to play it with other human beings in the room. Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far. Either way, if you want to try something that’s a little more abstract and asks you to be a little nicer in a digital space than you’re used to, it’s something interesting to look into when it comes out this November.