The Basilisk challenges you to beat a virus from within

Big Boss Battle reviews a box battling a basilisk

I’m going to get this out of the way early: The Basilisk, from Joshua Hughes, is a narrative-driven game, and I’m going to avoid spoilers. Anything I do mention will be from the very early game. With that out of the way, let us begin!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m quite fond of games that subvert expectations. ICEY, The Stanley Parable, and Pony Island are all very interesting combinations of game, narrative, and experimental storytelling. Recently I had The Basilisk brought to my attention, and was informed that the story was told in an interesting way, so I leapt at the chance to delve into this bizarre combination of puzzle platformer and 4th-wall breaking madness.

The Basilisk
Whilst some of the levels are tricky, death doesn’t set you back much.

The game begins with a block in a room. We’re quickly informed that a virus is ravaging the world’s population, and we have been created as an AI tasked with finding a cure. The voice telling you this introduces herself as Eve — another AI, created to support us. Eve tells us that as a sentient AI, boredom is a possibility, and so she created a visual representation of our efforts to find a cure, taking the form of a square being used to solve puzzles. Solving puzzles will bring us closer to the cure, but as the game progresses we find out that things are not what they seem.

Suffice to say, the plot becomes bizarre, but incredibly interesting, and touches on some genuinely fascinating aspects of philosophy beyond what you might expect from a story about artificial intelligence. Things become quite unsettling at various points, and although I would hesitate to describe this as a horror game, I felt quite uncomfortable at some points due to the use of unusual and unpleasant imagery. It manages to build quite a feeling of dread and uncertainty as you progress through the story.

The puzzles mostly take the form of platforming challenges. The square is made up of the colours red, blue, green, and yellow (one on each side) and can only touch surfaces of corresponding colour. The goal each time is to reach a light. Touching a surface of the wrong colour will send us back to the beginning of the area. Controls are simple, with A and D handling left and right movement, space for jumping, and left and right mouse buttons being used to rotate the block.

The Basilisk
Some of the later levels start to mess with your sense of direction.

Things are simple to begin with, but before long there are circular platforms, changing gravity, and even rhythm action sections. Every time it felt as though an aspect of these puzzles was starting to become a bit stale, something new would be introduced. There was always that willingness to press on, not just for the story, but also to find out what crazy mechanic would be added to the mix. The levels are challenging at times, but failure never sets you back far so frustration is uncommon — which is a change from many “tough” platform games.

To begin with, the graphics are serviceable, but not much more. Everything stands out well enough during the actual levels, and it’s pretty clear where you should be going. As things become more odd later on the visuals become much more interesting, with distorted camera angles and screen effects playing with what you can and can’t see. This never becomes irritating though, as no information you need is ever truly obscured.

Sound is also used well over the course of the game, becoming more and more twisted as events unfold. Like the visuals, it’s used to create a growing sense of unease as you press on and make more discoveries. I should also add that Eve is voiced very well throughout the experience.

The Basilisk
From time to time you can converse with Eve, leading to a variety of responses.

The Basilisk is a genuinely interesting experience. I can’t think of anything I’ve played that’s quite like it. Over the 2 hours it took, it reminded me of so many other games from Pong and Hue, to Thumper and Calendula. If you’re looking for something truly out of the ordinary, then you could do a lot worse than giving this a try.

The Basilisk is launching on PC & Mac later this year.

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  1. Dann Sullivan says

    I really enjoy the ideas behind Joshua Hughes’ work, and hope he keeps making more games.

  2. Josh Hughes says

    Thank you so much for the kind words!

    1. Rob Covell says

      Thank you for giving me the chance to play it. I encouraged me to have a go at Archimedes too which I also enjoyed a great deal.

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