A handful of 2D games I’ve played across the past months…
Teslagrad is a pretty solid “real physics” puzzle platformer, by which I mean that the majority of your actions are governed by force field simulations and everything feels a bit floaty in a fuzzy analog way. I found it quite fun – and wonderfully paced thanks to the combination of novel level design and a drip feed of physics (and thus gameplay) warping gadgets – with the glaring exceptions of the boss fights, which are very Donkey Kong Country without the comfort of the Diddy Kong life. If you think you can handle a half hour of trial and error boss fights, then the other five hours of Teslagrad are a solid recommendation.
At first glance, Galak-Z immediately reminded me of Bangai-O, a really sweet Dreamcast game about giant robots that I never made it very far into. Galak-Z takes the side-on spaceship combat and controls of Astroids, adds a helping of sword-and-shield mech combat, and mixes it up into a Rouge-lite. This has the exact gameplay ramifications you would expect: it feels really great when you manage to push through and reach permanent progress at the end of a “season”, a set of five levels across which you keep any gear that you manage to find, but success at the start of each new season feels largely dependent on the random drops in the first level or two. Particularly in the later stages of the game, enemies become so relatively powerful that not being given the right weapon upgrades as random drops spells near certain death. These qualms were entirely predictable, however, and I certainly determined long ago that the Rouge-lite formula worked for me when I put 80+ hours into The Binding of Isaac. What is much harder to defend is the giant cliffhanger of an ending that is the apparent result of the development team deciding that they didn’t feel like bothering to add the fifth and final season to the game. Summing up Galak-Z: Pros – gorgeous art, solid music, quite stylish, gameplay feels great. Cons – incomplete game.
I played Limbo, Playdead’s previous game, several years back, finding it pleasant if largely unmemorable. INSIDE brings back the sort of puzzly, meandering platforming of Limbo dressed up in a (very) shiny new coat of paint and a (slightly) more present plot line. It is most notable for doing everything that it wants to do with extreme polish. It is, like Limbo, mostly forgettable, because it doesn’t set out to accomplish a whole lot. The puzzles are workmanlike, the platforming twice so. INSIDE is all in on the atmosphere, which is admittedly quite well done, elevating the game just above Never Alone.
I played through most of Shovel Knight on flights to London and back, from which I have no actual transition, but I wanted to note it here to aid my own future recollection. Shovel Knight is an homage to Mega Man and early Castlevania games with a Super Mario 3 over world and JRPG shops and towns. It feels fantastic to play and the modern checkpoint-based save system is very welcome alongside all the nostalgia mining. If you have any affection for 8-bit era platformers, then i have no doubt that you will love Shovel Knight.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer mashes a dungeon-crawling rouge-lite together with a rhythm game, an idea which sounds mostly crazy. Practically speaking, the result is a series of enemies moving in a set pattern to the beat, a combo system that rewards the player with cash money for moving on beat, and a hard timer on each level (the end of the song). It works very well! I made it through the first few levels in real time, but the critical mass of enemies that the last level throws at you turned out to be more than I could track at once, forcing me to switch to the “move at your own pace” character. Fun game, great chip tunes.