Sawbuck Gamer

Press [X] To Give Up

Aging Bull

Press [X] To Give Up is a Lynchian struggle against a relentless bull—and against yourself.

By Matt Kodner • January 31, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

In an essay on the surrealist film director David Lynch, David Foster Wallace argued that Lynch’s often-nightmarish aesthetic unsettles the audience because it is rooted in the personal normalities of everyday life. The truly terrifying pieces of Blue Velvet don’t belong to its psychopathic villain Frank Booth, Wallace wrote, but to the moments where its unassuming hero discovers more and more of Booth residing in himself. Essentially, a Lynchian struggle takes place when the normal beats back the grotesque that is always hiding behind the plain—and in that light, Press [X] To Give Up is a rare and fantastic Lynchian game.

Press [X] twists a traditional bullfight into a personal and unsettling struggle against reality. You play as the game’s Beaumont figure—a matador—facing off against a Booth-like raging black bull. In lancing the bull, you don’t simply kill it in increments but trigger bulbous transformations of Akira-esque proportions with each successful hit. And likewise, the bull doesn’t harm you directly, but each gore tears apart a piece of your screen’s reality with visual glitches and computerized shrieks.

The match doesn’t take long to complete, win or lose, and it’s compellingly paced. Near the end I found myself not on the edge of my seat, but mentally receded from the task at hand. I wanted to pull away from the grotesque battle, unhappy with the course of my actions. And yet there was a primal urge to exterminate the monster in front of me, one that I had created. Players are challenged to reject the bullfighting narrative with the game’s titular “give up” button. And yet, knowing this, I gave into my inner Booth and finished the bull.

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  • Chum Joely

    I’m trying to figure out whether it is actually possible to beat the bull or not. The controls are very weird (be sure to read the description underneath the game screen– the onscreen tips inside the game are not enough info). I got as far as 3 hits before dying.

    I still haven’t figured out how to consistently dodge the charging bull– it seems that if you dodge too soon, you get hit anyway…
    Anyhow, 3 hits was enough to reveal one of the possible endings that shows what is “really” going on with this bullfight, so that part was interesting enough to keep me going. I’ll try again later.

    • caspiancomic

       I’ll confirm it’s possible to “win”, given sufficiently generous parameters for victory. You can kill the bull, is what I’m saying. And yeah, the controls took a while to learn (and the goal is a little unclear if, like me, you’re not already familiar with the world of bullfighting), and I’m amazed I was able to absorb as much punishment as I did and still pull out a victory. Still, I actually really liked this game. I think a lot of little indie titles go for the macabre twist ending in lieu of any actual creativity, but here I think the whole enterprise was actually pretty compellingly presented. Gold stars all around!

      • hastapura

        It takes some luck, but yeah…you can totally beat the bull. I think I got a good ending? Best case scenario I guess.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I got the ending for quitters, and the ending for losers, but, alas, apparently don’t deserve the ending for winners.

      • GaryX

        Did you see the PS4 is getting announced (maybe) on the 20th? Will you be heartbroken if the Last Guardian moves to that? 

        (assuming it even exists)

    • Raging Bear

      I think I got the pattern down…

      INSTRUCTIVE SPOILERS!

      1: Wait until the bull charges.
      2: Change stance after slo-mo starts, possibly a beat or so after – if you time this right, you won’t get hit whether you stick him or not.
      3: Raise the lance right after changing stance. Protip: you don’t really need to draw it up in order to be able to then strike.
      4: Press down to stab the bull. Exactly when doesn’t matter too much, as long as the bull is at least overlapping the matador a bit. (Did I hit him when he was merely close ahead? I’m not sure)

      The first strike is actually the hardest, since the bull is slower and the timing of all this is way dilated.

      • Chum Joely

        And now we know who would win in a fight between a @Raging_Bear:disqus and an aging bull.

        • Raging Bear

          Battle of the financial market metaphors!

      • Chum Joely

        Thanks, that did it. So now I’ve seen the… “good” (ish.) ending. Sigh.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

      After you’ve dodged the first one, you can just stand on top of the bull and stab him repeatedly during his transformation animation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

    I feel like a game like this should have simple, intuitive controls so that we can enjoy the more esoteric aspects of the game. It’s hard to appreciate the artistry of a game when you’re constantly struggling with the controls.

    • Rami Ismail

      Artistry and ‘easy controls’ might be contradictory. If this game, indeed, is a metaphor for physical struggle against a relentless inevitability – should it be easy or difficult to control? 

      I’d say it should be at least a bit difficult – stabbing a bull behind the head isn’t an easy task in real life and in the case of this game, it shouldn’t be in the game either.

  • Nils Lundquist

    After dodging successfully a dozen a times consecutively and stabbing “right behind the head” and not scoring a single hit, its laughable to call this game even playable. I have better things to do with my time. Artistry has nothing to do with unforgivably bad hit detection.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      I get your frustration with it. I didn’t get a single hit in during my first attempt. However, the game is actually pretty simple once you get a feel for it. The day the review went up I played it again, and got all five stabs in without being gored. And I generally suck at tricky video games. 

      If you’re willing to give it another shot, try holding off your lance a bit, and aim more for the back. The first rush has a pretty generous hitbox between the neck and upper back. 

      Hope that helps! 

      (edited for “beck” to “neck”)

  • Aaron Riccio

    What can I say, I beat this on my first time through. I guess I was born to slay metaphorical tumor bulls in an online video game. 

    Seriously, though, this isn’t QWER, let’s not act like this is the hardest or least intuitive Flash game, and at least the ending doesn’t make fun of you for suffering through it!