All too often, the only video games that get significant amounts of attention are the Halo and Call of Duty type games, and understandably so. They’re produced by major game studios with multi-million dollar marketing budgets dedicated to embedding them into the subconscious of every Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and/or PC owner out there. But every so often, along comes a game that is the complete antithesis of those games, a game that is unassuming and at first glance, rather plain—but that turns out to be engrossing and enchanting in a way that big budget mainstream games can never hope to be.
Coma is one such game. Developed in Flash by one Thomas Brush, Coma is the tale of a young boy named Pete who finds himself in a world that, as the title implies, might be his own subconsciousness. But Inception this is most definitely not. As he moves through the strange world, he receives clues about an imprisoned sister and a villainous father, and sees random hints about doorbells and the falseness of the world surrounding him. But the only way to make sense of it all is to keep exploring.
Coma is a very simple side-scrolling puzzler of a game: a moderately good gamer can probably finish it in 20 minutes or so. However, you may find yourself wanting to take longer than that in order to soak up the game’s simple yet evocative (and slightly ominous) atmosphere and settings: the creepy mansion in which the game begins, flowery pastoral fields, subterranean passages filled with giant worms, haunted forests, and so forth. They all seem rather straightforward when you begin, perhaps even too much so. But to Brush’s great credit, the simplicity and ambiguity slowly begins engaging the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks and wonder more about the world.
Coma‘s Flash animation is flawless, the puzzles are clever but not frustrating, and the sparse dialog is cryptic yet whimsical. The game is full of little details that generate equal amounts of whimsy and dread. For example, you are followed around by a tiny bird companion who is continually shedding feathers, a seemingly trivial touch that nevertheless enforces a certain sense of mortality and mono no aware. I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t also mention the game’s music, also by Brush, which blends acoustic guitars, electronic beats, field recordings, and wordless vocals in a way that adds an extra level of wonder and poignancy.
All told, Coma is a true delight to play. A puzzle game, an adventure game, a psychological thriller, and even a bit of a sandbox game, Coma pulls it all off gracefully and movingly. If a game’s success can be measured by the engrossing nature of the virtual world into which it places its players, then Coma is just as successful as its bigger budgeted cousins—perhaps even moreso given its humble origins and aspirations.
Related: PopMatters’ in-depth—though slightly spoiler-filled—review.