Luxuria Superbia may be Tale Of Tales’ most straightforward game yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t challenge established conventions and push boundaries.
I know enough Latin to recognise two of the seven deadly sins in the title of Tale Of Tales’ Luxuria Superbia, but I’m not entirely sure of the syntax and semantics. The simplest interpretation is that lust (Luxuria) and pride (Superbia) are two separate words that apply to distinct aspects of the game.
But where are my manners? Introductions should come first. Tale Of Tales are a Belgian video game developer known for games such as The Graveyard and The Path. In issue 81 of the Cane and Rinse podcast, Tony, guest Paul Rooney and I discussed the studio’s philosophy in creating software that comments on videogame conventions and invites, nay demands a little perseverance with deliberately opaque controls, objectives and meanings.
Luxuria Superbia comes as something of a surprise then. It is a game seemingly designed primarily for touch devices that asks the player to bring colour to a flower. Each flower is divided into petals that are coloured by touching buds upon them. The aim is to maintain colour on the petals for as long as possible by tapping and sliding across them. If the colour becomes too intense, the flower will climax and the level ends. However, finish the level too soon and your score will not be sufficient to unlock the next flower.
In case the surface metaphor isn’t apparent, tantalising euphemistic messages of encouragement appear as the flower’s vibrancy ascends. It’s fair to say that the first time this happens you’ll likely find yourself experiencing a certain amount of self-consciousness, as is undoubtedly the intent of Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn in presenting such a direct representation of the titular “Luxuria”.
The surprise isn’t in how clear the metaphor for lust is; Tale Of Tales games have always worn their themes on their sleeves. Nor is it shocking that the theme is atypical and challenging in video games; mortality, loss of innocence and the importance of intimacy are just some of the topics tackled in Tale Of Tales’ previous work. The most unusual aspect of Luxuria Superbia is that it presents its themes through apparently quite conventional mechanics.
Touch controls, a score system, medals, progressive difficulty and discrete levels that must be unlocked are hallmarks of video games, but not of Tale Of Tales. If one thing is clear, it’s that their use of conventional mechanics is as important as their presentation of unconventional themes. It’s right there in the title – ‘pride’ sits alongside ‘lust’.
High scores and clear, measurable objectives, with success and failure states allow us to feel pride and shame. Luxuria Superbia’s subversion is to present an easily obtainable objective, but to reward delayed gratification. Reach the required score for a particular flower and the single word, “Yes.” tells us to be proud. Score too low and another single word invokes shame: “Oops.”
Luxuria Superbia intertwines themes of enlightenment with lust through its central metaphor of a blooming flower. These are juxtaposed with the inherent pride that video games instill through their very structure and nature. The effect is quite striking, the awkwardness of lust giving way to the awkwardness of pride. Only after awkwardness is surrendered can the game’s triumph in sensuality be enjoyed.
Key to the effect on the senses is the stunning score, provided by Tale Of Tales stalwart Walter Hus. The music is layered so that it builds as the colour of each petal is intensified. As a pseudo rhythm action game, Luxuria Superbia is thematically very strange. As a Tale Of Tales game, it is stranger still.
Preview versions of Luxuria Superbia were supplied by Tale Of Tales and the game was played on both Android and PC.
Luxuria Superbia is available now for Windows PC, Mac OSX, Linux, iOS, Ouya and Android devices.