It sucks being the fat kid. There’s a unique sense of alienation that accompanies being the ‘husky’ friend, the ‘bigger boy’ at the back of the classroom. Your schooling years are already a hotbed of self-esteem issues and body confusion, both of which are exacerbated by looking anything other than the narrow range that is considered ‘normal.’ I was that kid (and still am in some ways), and while I’ve gotten somewhat better about how I feel about my body, media’s relationship to it is a whole other battle that rages on. Adventures of Chris is a game that, ostensibly, gets this. Developed by Guinn Entertainment (which in actuality is just Chris Guin himself with only the game’s art done out of house), Adventures of Chris takes the fat kid experience and turns it into an old-school 2D platformer, albeit with mixed results.
You play as Chris, a shy and asthmatic kid trying to find his way through life in the late 90s. After a magical portal rips open reality, our titular hero finds himself an unwanted guest at the birthday party of a teenage Dracula-adjacent vampire, Count Junior. As the festivities unfold we meet the sinister gang of villains Junior wishes to join, attempting to impress them by turning Chris and a handful of other kids into various toys and party favours. Chris, having been made fun of for his size, is turned into a balloon and promptly floats away, eventually discovering the kingdom of lost balloons hidden among the clouds.
Adventures of Chris stumbles a very fine line with its writing
The balloon people teach Chris how to control his inflation but are wary of his presence as he has arrived at a time of great turmoil. Count Junior’s army of red balloons are searching for the kingdom and a magical prophecy has foretold of a hero who would step up and save them from annihilation. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To prove his worth as a hero, Chris teams up with a balloon knight to rescue the other kids that Junior cursed, all of whom have been scattered across the globe with the various ne’er-do-wells who attended the party. It’s a pretty dense (if a little dry) story setup and feels as such while you’re playing. Fortunately, this is where the game opens wide, giving you a world map with complete freedom of choice about which order you tackle missions.
Chris has a decent little arsenal of tricks at his disposal fairly early on in the game, the core ability of course being his balloon form that allows him to float around, inflating and deflating at will. Initially, you’ll have limited access to this power as it consumes helium, but along with health and magical power, this can be upgraded at one of the merchants in the cloud kingdom. The game strongly advises you make your first stop the wise old balloon who can teach you fire magic, with an optional second ability in the form of crystal blasts. These complement your standard punch attack nicely, giving you some ranged abilities that get supercharged in the final act. Littered throughout stages are world flags and lost books to collect as well, which unlock some neat secrets.
The freedom to choose your next mission is great
Navigating these levels, and clashing with the game’s various cartoon monsters, never quite clicked for me though. Chris’ inflation ability turns him into a rotund, tricky ball of helium that needs to be carefully nudged around hazards, both environmental and antagonistic. In this form, and even his base form, Chris’ hitboxes are large to the point of fun killing. This issue collides with enemy hitboxes being wildly varying and often frustrating to find, making for a game in which taking damage is too easy and doling it out is too fiddly. Add to this mix a bunch of enemies with rapid projectile attacks and bosses that clutter the screen with noise, and Adventures of Chris strains against both skill level and sense of fun. You can collect cookies to spend on armour upgrades to somewhat mitigate these issues but it never feels like enough.
I’m not particularly gifted at platformers, but my feel for balanced gameplay in the genre has been honed over the years. Something like Ori and the Blind Forest comes to mind, a game that I found difficult, yes, but could at least process and understand how I could improve. Here, I had to brute force my way through certain parts by simply lowering the difficulty level, of which the game gives you mercifully varying options. These frustrations betray the game’s genuinely lovely core too; while some of the stages are humdrum, they’re matched by visually interesting and considered ones too. The world of Adventures of Chris is surprisingly rich, if a little goofy, and the game’s writing gestures towards a far deeper experience than the one I found I was capable of playing.
Chris will be bouncing through some pretty colourful stages
Slight spoilers for the game’s ending here but Adventures of Chris swerves in its final act, exposing that the prophecy was all a bit superstitious fluff orchestrated by a begrudged (but well-meaning) balloon princess. This revelation allows Chris to rise to genuine hero status, shirking the idea of destiny and fully embracing that a nobody like him can be great through effort and actions alone. At least, it almost says this, instead opting for a last-minute fake-out in which magical fate does exist, actually. In the span of an hour, it manages to The Rise of Skywalker its own The Last Jedi ideas, which profoundly sucks because a story like this that allows someone like Chris to be the hero on his own merit would have been exciting and a genuinely emotional payoff for kids struggling the way he does.
Adventures of Chris fumbles almost all of its ambitions, both as a game and as a piece of media that is at least trying to say something about non-traditional body experiences. It is riddled with fat jokes that are presented as being bad, while also having Chris chug down milkshakes and belch to regain health. Elsewhere, its gameplay resists the kind of rhythm you need to find in a platformer, instead becoming overly messy to both control and engage with. I can see its heart, especially as a piece that is grappling with the memories of being the fat kid, but it undermines itself as often as it tries to delight.
Reviewed on PS5 (PS4 version played) // Review code supplied by publisher
- Guin Entertainment
- Graffiti Games
- PS4 / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- October 8, 2020