Here’s a sentence I never thought I would be able to say: I own seven PlayStation Move controllers.
Before you assume I’m a controller-collecting madman with cash to burn, here’s a bit of perspective: I don’t even own a second PlayStation 4 controller. Hell, I never even owned a second PS3 controller.
Yet, somehow, I own seven Move controllers – an accessory that’s clearly on the way out – because of Johan Sebastian Joust. It’s probably the best gaming investment I’ve made all year.
Let’s be clear: Johann Sebastian Joust is barely a video game.
The screen is ignorable for the entire game. Your input is non-existent; there are no buttons to push, no controller sticks to wrestle with. In fact, the idea is to create as little input as possible: Your goal every round is to keep your controller as still as possible while finding ways to jostle your opponent’s controllers. This often means there’s pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking — basically, all the things you weren’t allowed to do during recess as a kid.
With little to no visual cues, the biggest output of the game is from the sound, which in turn, also creates the biggest twist: The faster the music plays, the more you can move.
Here’s how games usually go:
While the music is slow, players make gentle and unorganized strides in an attempt to find advantageous positions. There’s an unspoken reverie during this portion of the match; you don’t want to make enemies in the game too early, after all.
When the music speeds up, though, a mad cacophony of movement results. It’s a brilliant yet bumbling ballet: players run around, pushing, striking, and blocking each other while loosely holding onto their Move controller. It’s a game of odds, perception, and movement. With seven people, it’s pure madness, a baffling display of movement and child-like enthusiasm.
As the match wears on, lights gradually dim out on the Move controllers as players get out, leaving the final two combatants.
With only two players, it becomes a classic standoff, something akin to a fencing match. The two players circle one another waiting for one person to move or for the music to change. It usually only takes a strike, one misplaced movement, for the game to come to an end and the victor to walk away with a blinking Move controller.
It’s during these stand offs that the game really shines.
With seven people, you have a built in audience during every show down; while the last two are duking it out, the other five are at the edges watching it all unfold. This setup creates a natural tension as the outside audience waits and watches to see who will strike first. You’re on display, and every bit of your mind and body are all working together.
And when you pull off that well-timed strike and win? It’s a crazy endorphin rush. Not only because you won in front of your peers, but because the win feels like something that’s worth giving a damn about. You didn’t simply push buttons to obtain victory. To win, you had to fight with every ounce of your being.
I’ve learned more about myself from playing Johann Sebastian Joust than any other game.
I learned that I’m the quiet and sneaky type, usually picking off my prey when in midst of their weaker moments. I learned I’m more about quick attacks and deft movements than a sheer show of force. And I also learned that allegiances be damned if the right moment presents itself.
(Basically, I learned I’m a rogue, which seems about right.)
And I think that’s the beauty of the game. The primal physicality of the game forces you to tap into your inner warrior and figure out how to best your opponents in spite of your physical limitations. I don’t have the sheer height and size some of my competitors have; to compensate, I’ve had to rely on my reflexes and speed to pull out wins.
Unlike a Kinect game or other traditional Move game, there’s no waify physicality in Johann Sebastian Joust; there’s no waving your hands in front of a TV screen or mocking dance movements. Shoves are done with purpose. Strikes at a controller are done with quick precision. People can walk away with bruises, scratches, or worse.
The physicality in JSJ is real.
Being an athlete would have definite advantages; it’s a test of cardio, conditioning, and strength. It’s a game that forces players to rise to the occasion.
And when they do, it can be quite the reality bender. I saw quiet, unassuming friends become feared warriors as soon as they grabbed a Move controller; they’d take to the game with no remorse, using every ounce of their being to their advantage. They’d shove gracefully, dance around the play space, and strike skillfully at opportune times.
My perception of them changed from simply seeing how they handled themselves while playing Johann Sebastian Joust. I didn’t see them as my nerdy friends who liked to run around and hitting each other.
Instead, I saw them as fierce and worthy opponents, someone whose skill was something to aspire towards.