Have you ever argued with someone who thinks that they are the arbiter of artistic value, the judge of academic merit? You know, the person who might say that you should grow up and stop playing games, that they aren’t a worthwhile use of time, and their very nature makes them facile distractions from the older arts. Have you ever wanted definitive proof that they are staggeringly wrong? A game that showcases all of the integrity, craft, and poignancy of the greatest works of literature, film, music, and art?
Curse of the Chocolate Fountain is a powerful one-two punch of pathos and humour that scales to the rarefied heights of existentialism while plumbing the hidden bowels of the soul.
You are cast as Icarus Proudbottom, a man who has no choice but to fly through the air at dangerous speeds. He did not ask for this ability, as so many have before: it came to him without warning. Now, hurtling over the crust of our green Earth, we must control him and attempt to bring him safely back to earth at the end of his aerial odyssey. I should mention now that Icarus is a fine hero: a young rogue with more puns ready to fly off his tongue than a gunslinger has bullets in his bandolier.
The flying aspect of this game reminds me of the classic helicopter simulation where one must adjust the vehicle’s height relative to dangerous objects. Not that I would disrespect Curse of the Chocolate Fountain (hereafter abbreviated as CotCF) with a comparison to a far simpler experience. You do have to navigate past obstacles by adjusting the Icarus’ altitude, yet the control system is fluid and allows for a full range of motion across the screen.
His primary enemies are avians, typically ducks and geese, who inexplicably share his flightpath. The ducks fly in formation, automatons to their migratory programming, rigid in formation. The geese, with their pathological hatred of humans in full evidence, burst onto the screen in a chaos of swoops, dives, and unexpected ascents.
I was astounded by the realism of the game when, on first impacting with one of these birds, Icarus’ clothes exploded from his body, just as they would in real life. There is no immersion breaking health bar or life counter in this game. Another hit to his vulnerable flesh and you are returned to one of the reasonably frequent checkpoints. Death is heralded by a screen proclaiming, in both text and voice, that “YOU DEAD”. I can’t see this as anything other than a knowing dig at computer game conventions, cleverly subverting the universal “GAME OVER” screen that we are treated to ad nauseum by lesser modern titles.
Another clever subversion of gaming tropes is the way Icarus’ levels up. When this happens, stat bonuses pop up on the screen, boldly proclaiming than Icarus’ has more powerful Biceps or Existentialism. I was unable to detect a difference in his smiting power, nor his ability to comprehend the musings of Kierkegaard. Could this be a reference to the level scaling in games like Oblivion and Saddle Up with Pippa Funnel?
The world of our hero may seem a bleak one: forced to speed through the air, frequently naked, assailed by enemies he has never wronged, but he is not alone in his endeavour. Like the heroes of myth, legend, and paperback fantasy, he is accompanied by a guide, a mentor. This mentor is none other than the king of the owls, Athena’s cohort, symbol of knowledge and wisdom. There could not be a more apt companion, and it is obvious that the Owl, named Jerry, represents the developer’s hand and mind in CotCM. He provides assistance and support, relayed in precise diction that, if the game had been voiced, should have been read by an esteemed actor such as Tim Curry.
After the early stages, Jerry reveals that he can metamorphose into “Blood Destiny”, a razor sharp samurai sword, with which the enemies may be slashed asunder. The liberation of this moment has no parallel in my gaming experience. We are forced to skulk and hide from these birds, perhaps dying many times attempting to get past them. Then the sword is introduced and screenfuls of geese that were once moving minefields can now be burst through in a whirlwind of incisive brutality.
However, there are other foes than avians to vanquish. An aeroplane, military ducks, President Obama in a black chopper, and finally a show down with a nemesis I don’t wish to spoil you on in this article. The meeting with the President is a perfect example of tragic destiny, and it cements Icarus’ ultimate fate.
I’ve yet to touch on one of the strongest symbolic devices in CotCF. It is genius. Icarus’ flight, the flight that we occasionally achieve in dreams—unfettered by engines or unwieldy wings—is made possible by a curse. The Curse of the Chocolate Fountain causes Icarus to shit himself so violently that he has no option but to take flight or drown in his own excretion. This is a commentary on the gaming industry perhaps, on how developers are now flying high, propelled by a stream of their own crap. Or how CotCF somehow rises above that. It’s an acknowledgement and a statement. The curse also means that Icarus is a pariah. He will never be accepted by humanity.
You must play the game to discover the difficult decision he makes. There is a musical conclusion that captures the humour and poignancy of the tale in a way that would wrench sobs from a homicidal mime. I urge everyone to play it and bask in its glory. Much like an encounter in a dark alley, it offers a unique experience for free that you just can’t find anywhere else.