Indie Excavation No. 5: Platformers on Parade
Featuring: Polyroll, Until I Have You, and Noitu Love 2: Devolution
I feature a lot of platformers here, probably because I own lots of them. There are a great many platformers on Steam — they’re easy for small teams to make, there’s a lot of potential variety in the mechanics and design, and the market for them is very big. Unfortunately, this glut of platformers also makes it hard to carve off a part of that market. The biggest ones are massive, while the rest struggle for attention.
So we’ve got three more platformers on the march today. The last one’s a little different — it’s a little older than what I normally feature, a little more popular (though not as popular as it should be), and it has a bit of a storied history.
As always, if you want to clue me in on an overlooked indie title, you can leave a comment here or send me a message on my site.
Watch the games in action:
Spicy Gyro / Shiny Dolphin — 2019 — $5.99
One of the first games I looked at for this series was a NES platformer clone called Clash Force. While the game was respectable, it just wasn’t interesting enough to justify featuring it here. The second game by the same group, Polyroll, brings a little more to the table and definitely warrants some attention.
Polyroll is yet another neo-retro platformer. While this one isn’t trying to be an unofficial sequel to anything, there are plenty of influences here. Sonic the Hedgehog is an obvious one — the protagonist’s jump and dash moves are certainly reminiscent of Sonic’s, and some of the enemies bear more than a passing resemblance to Badniks. In terms of graphics and design, though, the possible influences are a varied lot — everything from Dynamite Headdy to some of Psygnosis’ games to obscure SNES platformer Jelly Boy.
The game itself is very straightforward: Play through a series of levels with varying themes, collect gems to unlock hidden levels and alternate routes, and fight a collection of colorful, sometimes bizarre bosses. Polyroll is meant to reward exploration, so the levels are fairly open with multiple possible routes. It’s also a more substantial game than you might expect — with over 30 levels and 11 bosses, it might take a little longer to finish than your typical indie platformer.
Overall, Polyroll gets a strong recommendation for anyone into the whole neo-retro scene.
Until I Have You
Wormwood Studios — 2016 — $13.99
From the vibrant world of character platformers, let’s move to something a shade darker.
Until I Have You puts the player in the role of a criminal known only as “the Artist,” an any-dirty-deed-done thief and mercenary with quite the reputation in his dystopian cyberpunk metropolis. Double-crossed by his bosses, who break into his apartment and abduct his wife, the Artist opts to do the only sensible thing: Murder his former clients one by one until he finds out who was responsible. Aiding him in this campaign is a stolen exoskeleton that grants him superhuman endurance and sensory enhancement, with only some slight neurological side effects.
While there is a fair amount of variety in the levels, Until I Have You is a runner at heart. Speed, efficiency and precision are the keys to finishing the non-boss levels, and while those levels start off very simple, the difficulty ramps up fast. The Artist has a few special abilities to make the process a little smoother, including the ability to slow down time and even turn back the clock to fix a single error, though getting the best score on each level requires finishing without the training wheels.
The main appeal here might be the setting. While the plot becomes hard to follow after a while, the “protagonist slowly going mad” conceit means that the game grows progressively twisted as the story advances. Using exoskeleton powers makes the Artist hallucinate, which can actually be a little disturbing the first time it happens if you didn’t expect it. Between that and the freakish nature of some of the Artist’s clients, Until I Have You is a game best suited for those who appreciate the weird.
Noitu Love 2: Devolution
Joakim Sandberg — 2012 — $4.99
The final game on display is one that’s better known than most that I write about, but not well enough. As of late, Joakim “Konjak” Sandberg is best known for Iconoclasts, but this was his real breakout title. With the Steam version coming up on its tenth anniversary, it’s worth taking a moment to touch upon it.
The first version of Noitu Love 2 surfaced in 2008 at the Independent Games Festival, but it took a winding road to reach the public at large. After IGF, there was talk of the game coming out on Nintendo systems, but this went nowhere until 2015, when developer MP2 brokered a deal to have the game (rechristened Noitu Love: Devolution) on the 3DS and the WiiU. By that point, it had been on Steam for a few years, and I’m guessing that lack of awareness is the only reason why anyone reading this doesn’t have a copy as it is very cheap and will run on just about anything.
Noitu Love 2 is best known for its novel mechanics, which use a combination of conventional platformer controls and pointer devices (the mouse, for the PC version). Xoda Rap, the protagonist, can run and jump like any good platformer character can, but she will also rush to any spot that the player clicks and start throwing out melee combos. It’s actually very intuitive and, after a few minutes, the typical player should have the hang of it. Beyond that, it’s just an exceptional game — smooth graphics, interesting levels and enemies, everything you’d want from a platformer. The only complaint anyone has is the length.
Noitu Love 2 has its fans, but it just needs more. Give it a look next time you want something short and sweet.
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