Tale of Tales' new game is the sexiest bit of vidya the world has ever seen, and should probably be handed out in physical education classes. Brenna Hillier reports between bouts of blushing and stammering.
The existence of Tale of Tales is one of many bits of evidence that Belgium - for all its innocent tourist reputation as a slightly dull place filled with beer, mussels and chocolate - is a seething hot spot of creative activity. This two-person team has produced some of the most interesting experimental games of the past decade, including a social MMO about deer with human faces; the quietly dark and stripped-back narrative The Graveyard; deceptively deep adventure The Path; and conversation-over-chess simulator Bientôt l'été, which arrived at my house in an envelope full of Belgian sand I'm still cleaning out of my keyboard.
Thus, when Tale of Tales sends me an email offering the chance to cover its latest game, I'm like, "yes please, and can it have turned up yesterday". I don't do any research to see if it is the kind of thing I will like; I assume whatever it is will be interesting, unique and challengingly thoughtful, if possibly uncomfortable and difficult to enjoy the way you'd enjoy a shooter or brawler.
I really should have done a bit of reading this time though, guys, because Luxuria Superbia is all about sex.
Sex! Oh my god! I can't talk about sex. My face is going red sitting here alone in my office typing the word. That's not to say I - well, you know; everything functions as expected and I live a healthy active lifestyle, thank you - but I don't talk about it, except in very private and necessary situations, and then usually only to say things like "left a bit" and "shut up, would you?" I especially can't talk about it with you, anonymous Internet person.
But if I'm going to talk about Luxuria Superbia, oh boy, I have to talk about sex. Gosh. Okay. We can do this. Now, I assume everyone here is a legal adult, and is fully informed about le birds and their friends le bees, as well as all the other useful peripheral information you get at school such as how to put condoms on bananas, what makes women deeply angry at the universe on a regular basis, and the importance of bathing regularly? I'm not preaching to the unconverted here, am I? Has everybody here actually had sex? (It's a bit hard to tell with you lot, sometimes - especially when you start comment wars about whose expensive thinky box is the best; it suggests you don't have anything better to do with your time, such as orgasms).
When I say Luxuria Superbia is about sex, it's almost certainly the exact opposite of what you're thinking, because most existing games about sex are basically just porn. Sex, real sex, isn't like it is in porn. Or rather, it's not like that all the time, or even most of the time. And frankly, it shouldn't be, because the stuff that is designed to help you efficiently make the world a slightly stickier place is not anywhere near as much fun or as healthy as it could be. (As an aside, studies increasingly show that too much porn can ruin your ability to enjoy sex. Ease off a bit.) Luxuria Superbia is about the other kind of sex, the sex that can take hours or even days - if you're very lucky - and in which everybody has a very jolly time and don't, for example, think about who is going to do the washing up later.
At its basic level, it's an on-rails score attack shooter, in which you travel through a tunnel and attempt to gather as many collectibles as you can without triggering the end of the level. If you do trigger the end of the level a bit early, that's okay, because the end of the level is an orgasm, and nobody's going to be like, "sorry, I wasn't ready for that". But the longer you can keep going around in your little circles, touching the right places just enough but not too much, the higher your score and the better everyone feels when you do eventually give in and plummet over the edge.
It's played with twin analog sticks on a computer, and as soon as I started playing I wished I'd gotten around to hooking up a DualShock, because the rubbery little nipples would be more appropriate than the clinically plastic cavities of my generic control pad. But it's also available on touch screen devices and kids, if there was ever an argument to buy a tablet it's the pleasure of direct feedback to manual manipulation. (Yes, I know. You don't need to point it out. Quite deliberate.)
Luxuria Superbia isn't subtle about this. Technically, the different tunnels you explore are flowers, and there's some talk about bees and gardens and such; it's not too hung up on the metaphor, though, because the flower regularly asks you to do quite specific things and makes a lot of little gasps and moans. Luxuria Superbia is an abstract but very definite sex simulator. It just is. That is what is happening. That is what you are doing. You are touching a thing and making it very, very physically happy. As I really hope you all know, doing that is a heck of a lot of fun, and Luxuria Superbia is a fun little game, even aside from its abstract simulation aspects.
Those aspects, though? They're done really, really well. Even though there's nothing explicit on screen, it probably ought to be handed out in sex ed. classes, as part of the national curriculum, so that nobody ever again gets somebody else's pants off and then wonders what the heck to do, since there is no bad synth music playing and a team of eight hairless Germans has not wandered through the door to take over matters. Touch all the bits, Luxuria Superbia advises. Be rhythmical. Now stop being rhythmical, it adds. Watch for visual cues. Listen for audio cues. Stop over thinking it and just do what feels good because the cues make sense to you on a very fundamental animal level and also your brain has stopped working. Well done. What I wouldn't have given to have this game a decade ago! What plans I have to slip it quietly into the lives of many confused young people!
When I fired up Luxeria Superbia I made it about ten seconds before my (repressed) face was bright crimson and I was swivelling in my chair to make sure that, against all known reason, my roommate hadn't suddenly come home and was standing behind me. With simple graphics and familiar controls, Tale of Tales has managed to do something quite amazing: turn the clinical, disconnected and inhuman into something that feels intimate, connected and warm.
Very, very warm.