I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours playing Michael Brough’s Corrypt (free for Mac & PC), which I downloaded after seeing this tweet by my hyperbole-averse friend Anna Anthropy. Holy shit? It’s like a one-person contest to see how fully developed of an emotional communication can by made with just a game mechanic and a willing player-interpreter. Upon searching for playthroughs on Youtube, I only found folks playing the first two minutes or complaining about the ‘ugly’ graphics (seriously?) so I thought I owed the game a few paragraphs.

Corrypt starts out as a fairly standard retro-Zelda cratepusher — your little swamp denizen self moves from screen to screen, pushing and pulling objects out of your way or onto buttons. Eventually you meet some other swampers who want favors: a guy who wants mushrooms to pay a debt, a mom who wants her tiny pink daughter back. All of this seems like a fairly generic thread-along for the main attraction: the brain-twistingly puzzlesome level designs. How do people reverse-engineer these fucking things? bc I feel like a GENIUS when I SOLVE them. Anyway, then you buy ‘magic’ from a suspiciously gregarious magician-blob, which the swamp people specifically warn you not to do, and then your face really melts. Not your swamp-character’s eight-pixel face, but yours, you know what I’m saying.

OK, spoilers: the way ‘magic’ works is that you select a tile of the room/screen you’re in and it gets ‘burned in’ for the rest of the game. Select a chunk of rock currently at 5 over / 3 down and it’ll block your way forevermore; keep your finger on the screen as you go from room to room and you’ll be able to find the square of empty ground that’ll let you walk through a wall three screens over. (Like, to steal the magician-blob’s mushroom stash and then sell them back to him, which is probably part of his plan.)

This fourth-wall-fuckwithing mechanic has a couple of obvious repercussions: one, you realize Michael Brough must have nearly lost his mind any number of times designing fifty different interlocking 6x6-tile puzzles that all still operate in specific ways when the player starts wantonly overwriting key parts of them. Second, you can get to previously inaccessible crannies and screens, grabbing mushrooms and flagrantly functionless ‘points’ and getting your ass accidentally self-cornered in some creepy crawly dungeon corners. Of course with every square you burn in, you could be overwriting a mushroom, or a key, or some object you can’t even imagine yet in some future undiscovered room, in order to get through a wall in front of you at present.

The other thing that happens is that the NPCs, with whom your relationship is never explained but who all seem to trust you to do the right thing, notice what you’re up to. And they change. Some of them drop hints that someone (ahem) is corrupting the crypt you all live in; some of them call you a magician to your face; some of them, heartbreakingly, just ask you to ‘take care of yourself.’ The squidmom who warns you to stay away from magicians just repeats her warning, pointedly choosing to ignore the fact that you are the magician now. Eventually you accidentally erase her forever and keep playing. Your POV is the only one that matters, swamp champ.