Axel Shokk is both a brilliant pseudonym and gifted artist. I’m rather keen on the idea of throwing surrealism in a blender with pop culture and bubblegum if the result is something akin to his work. Definitely not attending to the resulting mess though. In any case, his first authored game, TRIP, received an immediate “oooh” from me upon first sight; conjuring up fond memories of LSD: Dream Emulator. I fancied it. Unfortunately, the visual similarities, perhaps even the shared premise, with LSD (the game, not the drug) caused my expectations to ultimately lead to disappointment. The art’s still bloody good though and I’ll have some of it for my wall one day.
Rarely has a game incited me to begin playing it in the early hours of the morning, dreary-eyed, with only the nip of the night air holding up my eyelids. Perhaps I thought that the quasi-mind trip I was about to encounter would be more potent with my brain so willing to drift into dreaming. Or it could have been that the slow download speed in this accursed countryside had only allowed me to initiate this anticipated playthrough until right then. Absent of mind, I could only mash the keyboard until colours started appearing on the screen. And bloody heck, the bright pink main menu struck my face like that time the fizz from lemonade whooshed up my nose.
Now bleary and the victim of an assault, I pined for my most plump of cats to tell me everything was going to be alright. But he wasn’t around, so the moth that had just fluttered in through the window and proceeded to stare at the monitor from his perch on top would have to do. With little option other than to enter the only world available, the aptly-named TRIP, the moth and I braced ourselves for a good lashing with a rainbow coloured whip. Finger hovering over the Return key, breath toothpaste fresh and eyes now twitching, I slammed my pinky down.
Then an explosion of colours preceded – a floating, box-headed fella in front, huge geometric structures rose above and upbeat drumming crashed around the room (causing a rush for the Volume Down button). If it wasn’t for the juddery frame rate I could’ve been dreaming. It certainly startled my winged companion, who dropped just a little bit, now silhouetting himself on the screen. “We’re not so different, you and I, oh lecherous little Lepidoptera”, I might have mumbled. For we were concordant in our augophilia, and keen to strain our eyes and sup upon this multifaceted palette before us. As to matters of cognition, the task at hand involved spinning on the spot, observing each open valley and peering at what may lay ahead. Failing that, a blind step forward committed us towards a desert, before which stood two jolly, caped lady-giants who coaxed us forward. Their eagerness was at first a little unsettling, but passing them proved uneventful, which made it abundantly clear that the only danger in this place resided in the imagination.
The drums had faded now, leaving just a desolate whistle in the wind. The desert was lonely and appealed only as a facility to empty on to. So time it was to seek grounds anew, and strides took us towards yet another valley, this time with a placid stream decorated with full sentences. Pleasant chimes faded in as the valley came to an end, where it spilled into a lake and a grassy field. Enjoying the new blend of colours and shapes led to a new sound to be discovered, beckoning around a corner where a giant sat in mid-air awaiting visitors, almost like an expectant deity. Things carry on like this for a while, with new sounds teasing further discoveries, which we observed in mid-frolic; assigning meaning and stories to obscurity as if handing out free pamphlets.
In this way, TRIP is a half painted canvas; intended for chewing, or at its best, musing. The things you’ll find are coloured shapes, some stuck like a record in repeated animation – they’re featureless, there’s no detail so as to let the player fill in the blanks. Their forms remind me of a collection of smooth wooden animals intended for pre-schoolers I once owned – aw look, it’s conjuring up lost memories. Squabbling ants, flaming pyramids, hilltop rams, churning cogs, elephants with their feet in soak – all of this imagery is placed disparately. And that’s how it should be, really. Random. Except, and this is where the problem with TRIP lies, it’s not.
After your enlightening journey you’ll likely want a new place to discover, given that the single world on offer only has so much abstract marvel contained within. But there isn’t anything else. Load up the same world and everything is, well, exactly the same. That sounds like a stupid thing to say but my assumption was that, like LSD: Dream Emulator, the worlds in TRIP were randomly generated. This revelation led to the realisation that everything is deliberate, a vision of its creator and placed there for a reason; one that ultimately belongs to the original artist. Sure you can interpret it as you wish, but the reality is that the player has been denied the authorship they most likely desire. This experience is not a personal one unlike an actual ‘trip’, those drug-induced experiences. These sights and sounds are not unique to you, perhaps the interpretation is to an extent, but it’s still limited. On a more practical level, due to the world and the forthcoming additional ones being very few, it is all too easy to become a familiar and even overstay your welcome. Once a narrative has been assigned to the various architectures, it becomes an inward trip and repeated visits are nullified without the thrill of the unexpected. TRIP is therefore a solitary trip to the zoo, or an art gallery with (currently) only one piece. Those who have paid the entry fee may stare a bit longer to justify their expenditure, but if you’re looking for arbitrary delights beyond a single scoop then you’ll be dismayed with this serving. No matter how more-ish that flake and flavoured sauce drizzled on top is.
For some, like my friend the moth, that dressing is alluring enough alone, it may even be too much! With each passing minute I noticed him sliding down the monitor, quite involuntary, entranced as I was. He was an addict and I his dealer, not caring for their most dedicated customer. Then it happened. Our eyes met for the last time. He fell. Beyond the glow of the monitor he tumbled into the wailing darkness below. I was to find him in the morning as he lay upside down on my desk. Stiff. With a face too tiny to analyse, I once again filled in the blanks: he was smiling and his eyes still burned with the colours that had both killed and fascinated him. Stupid bugger.