When Jarred asked for anyone interested in a little indie PC game called vrdniX I quickly checked the YouTube video and saw that it was an odd-looking puzzle platformer and something that I am not totally comfortable with anymore. In fact, I nearly passed up on it as I haven’t really played platform games since the 16-bit era and Sonic. However, thinking that variety is the spice of life I thought that I would give it a go and do my best. I am glad I did as it's a fun and challenging game, especially for old buggers like me with reflexes mired in molasses, but at the end of the day the quirky art style and the fairly pacifistic gameplay won me over.
I will note up front that when you watch the video below of the first 10 or so minutes of my gameplay, you will see that I am slow in reacting and I brace for the “git gud” comments. This is also why the review is about two weeks late as I needed a lot, a lot, of extra time to make it through; boss battles, in particular, were a huge stumbling block.
First off let’s get the name out of the way. It is a silly name; it may have an in-game reason for that name, but it is a terrible title for marketing a game to people who may not know your studio or the type of games you made in the past. I have no idea how to pronounce the name and as you have probably noticed I am tired of Word underlining it red already so just refer to it as “the game”.
The gameplay itself is a mix of classic platforming with a puzzle element thrown in. The goal, just like the platformers of yore, is to reach the end of the level and enter a portal. Getting to that portal is laced with a couple of challenges - first off is the speed. The game does not allow you time to think. Once the character is in motion you can only control hi direction and jumps. There is no stopping to scan the level in view to see how to approach the various obstacles. This was the biggest issue I had as unlike Sonic this game gives you no pause. Tap the D-Pad to start moving and you are, quite literally, off to the races.
Trying to keep an eye on the character and the environment and potential obstacles all while scanning for these black “buttons” that rotate the level is a challenge. The levels are short; even I was getting through them in less than five minutes but getting around is challenging. The speed is amazing, as just watching the sprite zip around trying to time jumps just right so that you can move through that gap to the next section is nerve-wracking but fun. The number of times I missed the gap and had to redo a section was tough to bear, but not at all frustrating enough that I wanted to rage quit or even worse, throw my controller across a room (ed - we can't have that here if the game isn't called Dark Souls, Lynley).
The speed is one challenge, but the fact that, to get to a portal is not a matter of straight lining it to the portal, is just what in lesser developer hands would be a bridge too far. Each level is a puzzle to be solved but running through these black buttons that look like mini versions of the portals at the end of the level, you will rotate the screen and open new pathways and other obstacles. Luckily the character has what is a weirdly sticky and prehensile tongue allowing him to traverse ceilings to get to the level changers and through the new paths. This challenges you to assess the best pathway to the end goal, reach it and immediately, due to the speed with which the character moves, adjust your path to consider new obstacles and routes. It is a great brainteaser ensuring that you don’t just switch off your brain and run and jump endlessly. This game requires you to use your brain as much as your reflexes and that alone makes it a welcome addition to platforming libraries everywhere.
The final obstacles in the level are innocuous flowers and your fellow, though different looking, citizens of this planet. For some reason, your character is allergic to flowers, deathly so. Touch flowers planted on the level or worn in hats and you die and must restart the level. However, these characters can give you that breathing room you need to assess a level, especially after an orientation change. They act as barriers to your progress so if you cleverly run into them you will push them along, but much slower than if you were free running allowing you to assess or even slow down enough to time a jump or drop down to hit that narrow new pathway that has opened.
Finally, boss battles are the toughest section ever, but luckily the game autosaves before every level except before the final boss. Using all your wiles and the skills you’ve picked up in the main levels, you will rotate levels to keep out of his way as he relentlessly hunts you while trying to defeat the boss using the rotation of the level and obstacles in it. It is insanely tough, but again not frustrating. The challenge is pitched just right to keep you coming back with a refined strategy.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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16 August 2018
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