HPS1 Summer of Shivers: Courage: The Videogame

“Courage: The Videogame” by Nathan Gabriel & Francisco Lucas.

“[This is a] port for the cancelled [“Courage the Cowardly Dog” PlayStation] game[.] […] Even though this is playable, the game is still incomplete, the hard drive where we found it only had part of the content of a full game, so this game has a lot of missing parts. […] We [could not] access some levels, they have logical ways into them, which means you can access them in the game, but we have no idea how to find them.”

Remember Saturday mornings as a child in the nineties or noughties? Sitting in the living room with a bowl of cereal, turning on the television and watching your favorite show… Maybe you liked watching “Samurai Jack” or maybe you preferred “Powerpuff Girls” or no, wait, let me guess, it was “SpongeBob SquarePants”, right? No matter what your favorite was, times were good and simpler. Some shows from back then, though, have always been a bit… Different.

When you think of black humor in animated series, one name often comes to mind: “Courage the Cowardly Dog”. In case you do not know the cartoon at all, I will quote the short summary from the Wikipedia article about it here: “The title character is an anthropomorphic dog who lives with an elderly couple [Note: Their names are Muriel and Eustace Bagge.] in a farmhouse in the middle of “Nowhere”. In each episode, the trio is thrown into bizarre, frequently disturbing, and often paranormal or supernatural-type misadventures. […] The task of protecting Muriel and Eustace from such dangers falls on Courage, who endeavors to thwart or reconcile with the monster of the week and remedy or repair any damages done.”

How are a now two-decade-old animated series and a jam submission from 2021 connected? At first glance, it seems that Nathan Gabriel and Francisco Lucas have released a game based on the series itself. On the one hand, models of some of the original characters were created (of Courage himself, whom you also control, but also of Spirit of the Harvest Moon and Computer), and on the other hand, the game starts in a detailed replica of the familiar four walls. However, appearances are deceiving.

Eerie things happen shortly after you are given the task to find them by the Spirit. It is not explained who they are supposed to be nor where or how you can meet them. Instead, you are suddenly thrust into some sort of deep dark limbo-like room where a giant circle of chairs awaits you. Finding out what exactly to do with the unexpectedly placed furniture is the first, but by far not the most difficult puzzle.

Endurance and tenacity, however, are just as important qualities as cleverness to solve the riddles you face. Because in some places the game will seem to be over, although this is not true. It will sometimes just turn itself off, only to continue in a completely different place after a restart. But then there are also moments where a screen says that data would be missing, which means you cannot continue playing the respective scenes. This is true, but it does not necessarily mean the end: By manipulating the save file directly in a suitable editor, you can enter other places here as well.

Lacking any knowledge of all these idiosyncrasies can make it a very short or very frustrating experience. However, if you get into it, you can experience what is probably the most exciting alternate reality game ever developed for a jam. In fact, the team behind the project claims that they did not even develop the game themselves, but that they were just porting it. At a yard sale they acquired a hard drive where they found the last traces of the original never released “Courage: The Videogame”.

Even now, about two months after the release of the jam version, we players are not even beginning to understand what it is really about. Sure, we have deciphered cryptic messages written in Morse code, we unmasked audio files as labyrinth maps, we adjusted the contrast of images to uncover hidden messages, we discussed theories and interpretations in the accompanying Discord, and we sifted through various files to find every last shred of information – but we have reached our limits. For now.

Return he will. And with him the Old Wind. [PLAY]