Venzone is a ASCII platformer game that uses minimal means to create a astonishingly dense, mysterious atmosphere. The game is set in the Carnic Alps (the area the eponymous town of Venzone is located at), takes inspiration from both the local landscapes, fairytales, and myths, and comes with a tutorial stage and two short but detailed and very creative designed levels.

The game is done in Haskell and forgoes interfaces or libraries to manage input and output; as a result the controls might feel rather exotic at first – but since the levels and challenges are designed around this, the movement will feel natural after a few screens. And the little effort to get into this game is most worth it.

In the first story, a witch extorts you to gather flowers in a mountainscape that features cragged cliffs, dangerous bridges and a magical labyrinth. In the second story, you go into a savaged mountain range to fight the earthquake causing giant Orcolat. The ASCII graphics are absolute minimal, but since the game focuses on the relevant details, the moods and feelings of the places that inspired the developer are caught – in both levels, a benign melancholy is present. It seems likely that the developer uses the medium primarily to express various ideas and emotions (some of them very deep-rooted) that are evoked to them by spending time in or thinking about the Carnic Alps – and transfers them to us with this game.

It is probably because this game is so straightforward in every way – the simple technical body, the ASCII graphics, the basic movement, dialog is sparse, music and sound absent, and thus there is no overhang, squiggle, or deviation – that these thoughts are that present, essential and tangible, and make the game in return so vivid and impressive. The gameplay itself is really good – carefully designed around the technical limitations, and hard enough to be exciting while probably still feasible for most players – but clearly second to the overall atmosphere.

For those who dare to enter the competition a level editor function is included.

Venzone is free/libre software and available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Worked perfect out of the box. The developer also offers some more games, articles, a blog, tutorials, and media at his homepage and is active on freegamedev.

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