Tale of Tales continues to prove that it is the preeminent developer of games that are not just artistic by accident; they’re developed specifically to be art. And they’re an eclectic team to say the least; after such dark projects as The Path and The Graveyard, Luxuria Superbia couldn’t be more of a thematic foil. This game is positively filled with colour.
It’s also a not-so subtle metaphor for the act of pleasuring a women. In Luxuria Superbia your job is to delve into the depths of a flower and stimulate it by rubbing on buds as they appear on the screen. The more stimulated the flower is the more colourful it becomes. In practice it’s a little like a scrolling shooter, and points are accumulated by keeping the flower simulated. The twist is that if you oversimulate it the flower will climax and its game over.
The longer you go the more points you accumulate and once you go over a certain threshold you’ll unlock the next, more challenging flower. None of this theme is overt and Luxuria Superbia is not an adult game; on the surface level it’s just a really stylish art game with simple but effective gameplay and a really cool soundtrack. The most explicit it ever gets is the occasional word of phrase that pops up on the screen as you play. Phrases such as “indulge my hedge,” “my flower is open,” “grow around me” and “glowing in the aftermath,” are amusing, and the most raunchy this game gets. I suspect that young children would play this game without a clue what it’s about. Teenagers should get it, though they’re also likely to find it a little silly, since they’ll fixate on the obvious to miss the more interesting conversation the game is looking to have with players.
What is more subtle is the meaning behind this game. There is a hint in the title; “Luxuria” is an old word to describe the deadly sin of lust, and “Superbia” describes deadly sin of pride. The game has a points system, but doing well at and getting a lot of points doesn’t really result in anything meaningful for the player; there’s an abstracted gauge that fills as you get more points, but that’s it. The implication here is that players are meant to take pride in achieving a good score, that you’ve done a good job in pleasuring the woman. The words that fade into the screen when you earn a big score are certainly more complementary and you’ll be thanked for your performance, but there’s no epic cut scenes to reward you for your work, no loot to be gained, no secret levels. In keeping with the theme of the game there’s also no indication that the role you’re taking on receives any pleasure in return; this is strictly a one-way performance.
I find it interesting that the developers chose to term the drive to do well in the game as superbia. It’s a word that exclusively held negative connotations when it was in common use and is archaic now (as opposed to “pride” which has been in many ways appropriated to also have positive meaning). I think there’s a commentary in there about the motivations that players have to keep working through any game, and how ultimately pointless any achievements and awards are; all progress in games is ultimately driven by pride rather than a sense of tangible reward.
And yet we as players continue to literally lust after these experiences. Even when the sense of reward is something as shallow as our own pride for a job well done, we keep moving on to the next level for the next experience in the next game. In many ways Luxuria Superbia is a window into the essence of why we play games and how ultimately unsatisfying the experience can be in terms of providing real reward for the work that we put into playing them.
Luxuria Superbia is a fascinating and deeply intelligent game. We wouldn’t expect any less from Tale of Tales, but if you are going to play it, do so on a touch screen device. The experience (and all Tale of Tales games are all about the experience) is lessened when playing the game through any other medium.
Looking beyond that, this is a simple, casual action game with a really incredible art style and gorgeous music. Even if it’s not the kind of game that you want to sit there and think about, Luxuria Superbia is one worth playing for the sheer (and unique) experience that it offers.
(Editor’s note: For a game like this throwing a score at the end feels positively primitive – after all, you’d feel silly giving paintings, architecture or literature scores out of five, but that’s the structure we’re stuck with in the games industry, so there’s a score down there)
– Matt S.
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