The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
Developed by: Dontnod Entertainment
Published by: Square Enix
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

“The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit” is a digital arrow tipped in nostalgia aimed at grownups. If the game could be reduced to a question it would be this: Do you remember those miraculous Saturdays of childhood, full of promise, when you were left to your own devices? The developers at Dontnod Entertainment, the French studio reputed for their character-focused work, have made a zestful game that spins around a nine-year-old boy’s imagination. Like the fabled Proustian madeleine, here is something that will set your memory turning.

Chris, a.k.a. Captain Spirit, has big plans for his Saturday. Among other things, he’d like to put on his superhero costume, play in the snow, and carry out a cosmic battle. Chris displays a child’s natural affinity towards animism. The power of his imagination makes objects seem to come to life in his hands, and environments are reshaped around his emotions and desires.

For Chris, even turning on the small television in his room is an event. He invests energy in pretending that out of his extended hand flows a transformative power while, with his other hand at his side, he discretely clicks the remote. Visually, the game plays with the tension between what Chris imagines and the world’s mundane aspects. Chris’s imagination deepens his engagement with his surroundings and cushions his disappointments. In this way the game presents a positive dialectic of escapism.

Charles Eriksen, Chris’s father, is a grieving widower. He is not a good cook, nor is he averse to getting passed-out drunk in the afternoon. But he loves his son. Given this setup it’s not hard to figure out that the father’s intemperance will eventually result in an emotional blow up. I was unmoved by the occurrence which I found to be dramatically unsubtle. Rather, the emotional highlight of the game for me happens when one of Chris’s adventures leads him to a cache of mementos from his past. That scene alone, which feels remarkably organic and unforced, made me glad I played the game.

Aside from the more fanciful scenes it’s the little details, such as the unexceptional parental secrets that Chris discovers while rummaging in his dad’s room, that gives “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit” a humble humanistic sheen. The game doesn’t traffic in big character revelations. Instead it derives its momentum from moments of recognition like Chris’s attempt to win parental appreciation by performing small chores around the house.

“The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit” is free, only a couple of hours long, and serves as the prologue to the upcoming “Life is Strange 2.” Fans of the series should appreciate how the developers connect the Eriksens’ lives to the Blackwell Academy, the private high school at the epicenter of “Life is Strange,” and its prequel “Life is Strange: Before the Storm.” Regardless, if one has played the previous games, “Captain Spirit” is worth checking out. It’s modest and a little flawed, like a gift given by a child to an adult.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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