When I saw that one of the bands I interviewed this year, The Strumbellas, launched a video game based on their debut album, My Father and The Hunter, I knew I had to check it out. Set to 8-bit songs from My Father, the game takes players on The Strumbella’s journey from their hometown of Lindsay, Ontario, through the desserts of Ontario, and to the “big city” (Toronto), while facing grim reapers, sheriffs, murderous birds, windsurfers, collecting guns and bedazzled jackets. Players can choose to be any of the 6 members of The Strumbellas, with each band member’s instrument being the “weapon” of choice.
I thought the game was a really neat way to showcase the personality and various talents of The Strumbellas. Scored by drummer Jeremy Drury and with backgrounds illustrated by violinist Izzy Ritchie, the game establishes the band as more folksy than its self-described label of “folk popgrass” would have you believe. The games three levels each use a different song from My Father – The Sheriff, Lakes, and The Bird That Follows Me.
While the 8-bit format doesn’t do any favors to the band’s rambunctious, sing-a-long songs – especially if you’re like me and have to repeat each level about 5 times before passing it – anyone who did play games with an 8-bit soundtrack will appreciate the retro feel of the game.
After I finally finished the game’s three levels – a first for me – I wondered, “why a video game?” I assume that The Strumbellas made a video game with the intention to promote their album (the soundtrack to the game) and, of course, promote their band as whole. If you’re already familiar with The Strumbellas and their music, this is probably a neat way for you to spend 10-15 minutes. You might even get to know the different band members a little better, with each video game character having their own verbal reaction to dying or being hurt.
However, if you weren’t familiar with The Strumbellas, and you came across this game completely out of context, would this game make you want to find out more about the band? Probably not. As I said before, each level uses a different song from the album – introducing the level with an onscreen quote from the song’s lyrics. Even being familiar with the band’s music, it wasn’t immediately clear that the quote is a lyric from the song being used for that level. Perhaps having each level introduced with the same lyric on the screen, but with an 8-bit version of the vocals as the opening soundtrack would make that connection clearer. While the game does establish the personality of the band as a whole – with the setting, music, and objects you fight and collect all being related to the image of The Strumbellas as a folk or country band – I’m not confident that, once the game is over, the player has the incentive to check out the rest of the band’s music. If I’m right in saying the point of this game is to promote the album and the group, there needs to be some sort of link to the band once the game is over – maybe a free download of a song? A listing of upcoming tour dates?
Play it for yourself, and let me know what you think.
– Jenna Marynowski