"Crescent Pale Mist," I admit defeat

That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. I give up, cry uncle, throw in the towel — basically, whatever metaphor for quit you want to use.

I cannot beat “Crescent Pale Mist,” a side-scrolling action-platformer for the PlayStation 3. At least, I can’t beat it without a lot more time and luck then I’ve got.

I’ve struggled against the game off and on for longer than I’d care to say, running into seemingly insurmountable roadblocks time and time again. Progress came slowly, grudgingly. Nonetheless, it came. Until now.

I’ve made it to the fifth of six levels, and I can go no further. A huge chasm stands in my way, and while I know on an intellectual level how to cross it, I can’t pull off the moves necessary. I just can’t. I’ve spent hours trying now, literally hundreds of attempts, and I’ve only come close to making it once.

Either I’m just pitiful or this game is really difficult. Probably both.

Ordinarily, I won’t write about a game until I’ve completed it. I’m going to break that rule in this case, because “Crescent Pale Mist” deserves an audience, and I’ve waited too long already.

The basic premise of the game is that the deadly pale mist is seeping into the world from another dimension. You are Yunou, the only magic-user able to control the mist, so it’s up to you to find out what’s going wrong and fix it.

The game-play is a mix of intense button-mashing combat, punctuated by punishing boss battles; and convoluted, challenging exploration of rather labyrinthine levels.

The battles

The run-of-the-mill monsters of “Crescent Pale Mist” aren’t your average pushovers. Spawned by the mist, these suckers are quite durable — taking more than a few hits to vanquish — and not at all shy about repeatedly attacking, alone or in groups. Add in the fact that almost all of them use both melee and distance attacks — and attacking groups will pound you with both in a coordinated effort — and you’ve got a lot of trouble on your hands.

Yunou isn’t helpless, of course. Her sword — your major means of attack — swings quickly and often, and she can throw an endless stream of daggers too, though those don’t do much to the bigger creatures. She also can block, which mitigates the damage she takes (without preventing it entirely) and protects her from being knocked back. And she has a “dash” move that renders her temporarily invulnerable.

Plus, she’s magical. Most monsters, when struck, release balls of pale mist. If you do nothing with the mist, it’s automatically used to heal Yunou, and stored for later. However, if you tap the “special” button, the balls instead transform into magical spears that transfix your enemies.

She also has a few magical attacks she can use at will, but I’m probably going into too much detail as it is. Suffice it to say, both Yunou and her enemies are forces to be reckoned with.

And the bosses she faces at the end of each level are off-the-scale on toughness.

Putting it another way, my first boss battle in this game taught me a big lesson — namely, that I wasn’t skilled enough to beat the game on “normal” difficulty. Usually, the first boss in a game is a warm-up, a tutorial that gives players insights into the minds of the developers. Most often they are crafted in a way that says, “this is how the boss monsters’ vulnerabilities will be exposed in the future; this is how we’ll telegraph the patterns of their attacks.”

I didn’t get any of that at the end of level one. I just got my head handed to me. Humiliated after numerous attempts, I restarted the game on the easiest difficulty setting — and still died a few times before finally succeeding.

The platforming

But it wasn’t the combat that did me in — well, at least it wasn’t after I figured out how to properly use the mist.

It was the jumping to and fro.

The controls in “Crescent Pale Mist” are rather floaty by design, as Yunou is able to double-jump in mid-air as well as bounce off of walls. In the grand scheme of things (platforming games in general), those aren’t exactly extraordinary abilities, but the levels are designed in ways that truly tax the limit of such maneuvers.

Perhaps the best example is the puzzle that had me stuck on the third level for a very, very long time. To progress there, you have to make something of a jump in reverse. You must drop down a crevasse and jump against the wall on your right at the proper time, propelling yourself to the left. Then you must bounce off the ceiling above you, continuing your flight to the left, and hit the jump button again in mid-air to reach the nearby wall to your left. You must immediately jump into that wall in order to propel yourself up and to the right, and begin bouncing between two walls until you lift yourself to safety. The entire time, the floor is the equivalent of 40 feet beneath you, so a missed jump at any point is quite disastrous.

It’s challenging enough that the designers put in a teleport point right before that jump, so you can try over and over until you get it right. It took me a long time to figure out the proper sequence and get it right (and there’s a reason I had to do it over and over even after I succeeded the first time, until I figured out I was being really stupid about something.) And it’s still nothing compared to the obstacle I’m stuck on now.

Even without those complex maneuvers, the worlds Yunou is trapped in are confusing enough in their own right. Though graphically everything is quite simple, the levels are layered into multiple dimensions, and you’ll often have to depart from your side-to-side path at certain points to leap forward or backward into another layer.

The effect gradually becomes disorienting, as paths wind in and out, up and down, and you lose sense of where you are in relation to where you were. It’s excellent design, really, though it can become intensely frustrating.

Putting it all together

Taken as a whole, “Crescent Pale Mist” is an extremely challenging game, largely because the combat and platforming elements aren’t actually separate elements at all, even though I’ve addressed them as such.

Complex jumping sequences can take place under the duress of enemy fire, which can knock you back to the bottom if you’re caught with the block button released.

Eh, I’m probably whining a bit much.

What I’m really trying to say is that “Crescent Pale Mist” is a game for players who want a challenge. I’d almost call it the “Demon’s Souls” equivalent of side-scrolling platformers: painful but fair.

“Crescent Pale Mist”
Platforms: PS3.
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment.
Price: $5.99, available only as a download on the PlayStation Network.
Rating: E10+ for everyone 10 and up.
Recommendation: If you’re into challenging action-platformers and adept at tapping out complex combos on a controller, you’ll be into this game, though it might take you a bit to figure out all its ins and outs, which I see as only adding to the value for you. But more casual players or the uncoordinated, like myself, probably should stay away — though I could see using this game as a way of improving on one’s abilities overall.

Images courtesy of Sony Online Entertainment
First image: Yunou "dashes" over several Living Armors, one of the basic enemy types you'll encounter in "Crescent Pale Mist."
Second image: If I hadn't been playing on easy, I'd never have beaten Kurow, the boss of the fourth level.
(Sorry about the image quality. I'm hitting a size/resolution limit that I'll try to have corrected.)

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