‘Captain Spirit’ will melt, rend your heart in equal doses
A battle of wills against a mortal foe. A father who drinks too much. A trip to a faraway planet. Letters from concerned friends and family. Creating a superhero costume. A dead mother. Such is the equally magical and disheartening Saturday afternoon we spend with 10-year-old Chris and his troubled father in “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.”
Dontnod Entertainment’s “Captain Spirit,” a standalone bridge between the developer’s “Life Is Strange” and “Life Is Strange 2,” is — if you’ll pardon the pun — a strange mix of childhood adventurism and reality’s harsh glare. The setting of a rundown two-bedroom house in the snow-covered, fictional town of Beaver Creek, Ore., clashes against the imagination-powered antics that happen inside and out. Chris confronts frightening super-villains with his own superpowers, but then he makes his father some mac ‘n’ cheese so he doesn’t drink his whisky on an empty stomach.
It’s like this throughout the two-hour game, which may speak to a couple of truths but doesn’t really settle any of them. If anything, “Captain Spirit” revels in the resilience of children, but it holds no punches in its portrayal of less-than-stellar parenting. But Chris powers through this wintry Saturday, tasked with chores and missions he can accomplish. The end goal: to go get a Christmas tree with his father — if he doesn’t first pass out in a drunken stupor while watching a basketball game.
So off Chris goes, finding material to craft his superhero outfit while picking up the numerous beer cans his father has left behind. He washes the dishes (breaking a glass and earning his father’s ire in the process) before finding the two pieces of a map that’ll lead him to treasure hidden deep within a scary maze. His day is mixed with menial tasks that his father probably should be doing while partaking in awesome adventures through space and time.
As you explore Chris’ world, you come across notes and letters and clues that point to the game’s connection to the “Life Is Strange” universe. (There’s even an shoutout to Eugene: Chris’ parents graduated from the University of Oregon.) Mom’s artwork was shown at Blackwell Academy, a major location in the series. Teenage train-hoppers (remember “Before the Storm”?) are addressed in a pamphlet on the living room table. But then there are tidbits that solely address “Captain Spirit,” and almost all of them are depressing in their grim realism. At least there’s some awesome music to life your spirits, right?
In the end, that’s the strangeness of “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit”: The title suggests one thing, but the situation you experience is sadly much more realistic. It’s not clear what, if any, actual connection “Captain Spirit” will have to “Life Is Strange 2,” but I hope it’s more than a passing thought. Chris deserves some type of resolution (this being basically a demo, it ends on a cliffhanger), and I’m intrigued to see what happens between Chris and his father. Maybe Captain Spirit’s powers will save the day. One can only hope.
Four “Take that, evildoer!” stars out of five.