This week, Zero Punctuation reviews 'Splosion Man and Trine.
2.5-D is a term that infuriates geometrists, and it's had a couple of definitions in the history of gaming. It used to refer to '90s FPSes like Doom that weren't actually 3-D, despite the claims of Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem but instead cobbled together an illusion of 3-D using 2-D planes, mirrors, and body doubles. That technology now sits along voxels and Mode 7 beneath the swamps of obsolescence, so 2.5-D now refers to games with graphics fully rendered in 3-D, but gameplay controls solely along a 2-D axis. It's proved a popular avenue for smaller and newer developers, because it lets them make use of the 3-D animation degrees that their dads paid so much money for and it means that there's a whole wall they don't have to render.
I'd like to talk about two recent 2.5-D games, frankly because what the fuck else is there to talk about before the Christmas pre-releases, starting with Apostrophe Splosion Man on that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the X-Box Live Arcade. As I've come to expect from the "cuhs-blah" [XBLA], the game is refreshingly simple. You are an insane, constantly burning man escaping from a laboratory who possesses the ability to generate explosions without damaging himself. Okay, maybe it's not that simple. I find the character of 'Splosion Man intriguing. Is he a conjuration of scientific folly whose madness stems from haunting existential uncertainty? Or was he once human and now erects a giggling facade to conceal the wrenching internal sadness he feels for what he has lost? The game's answer to these questions is a resolute: "Who gives a shit? Now, butcher your fellow man in a consequence-free environment, you pussy!"
It's nice to see simplicity in game design and 'Splosion Man could only be simpler if it were sugar-cubed on the end of a cocktail stick. You only have one button, or rather four buttons that all do the same thing. To jump, you explode. To deflect missiles, you detonate. To throw levers, you spontaneously combust. That's about it. But simple doesn't mean the same thing as easy. Well okay, it does, but shut up! What I'm getting at is that the game very quickly becomes unforgiving, with timed, crushy spiked-wall gauntlets after unavoidable stun lock shoves into boiling acid, requiring absolutely perfect timing. And if you die over and over at a particular checkpoint, the game will pop up a window suggesting that perhaps you'd like to skip this level, which I found quite aggravating. Yes, maybe I'll skip this level and then I'll eat a few French Fancies and maybe take a lovely scented bath to clean my massive vagina! Now, get outta the fucking way! This shit will not beat me!
'Splosion Man puts me in a mind of N+ crossed with Portal and then crossed with Portal a few more times until very little of N+ remains. It's set in a futuristic laboratory like the one in Portal, but it doesn't get suspicious until you find your first cake. There's one on every level you can get for extra points, which is obviously way better than Portal which just had the one, and even that one was of questionable status. And you remember how Portal memorably featured a jaunty song with quirky lyrics? 'Splosion Man has three. I appreciate that you have to do whatever it takes to stand out in the indie market, but 'Splosion Man really is trying too hard. Like an insecure man who goes to work in bright green trousers, so the people will pay attention to him, if only for long enough to change his stupid green trousers.
I guess jumping around with explosions is fun once you have the timing down, but the one thing they should've ripped-off from Portal was its appropriate length. There are fifty levels and they run out of ideas around number twenty-three; leaving the rest of it to potter about in sameyness. I guess it might be worth the price if they bundled it with something cool, like a frog.
Anyway, the other game I have pinned to my special 2.5-D dissection table is Trine on Steam and PlayStation Network. This is a far more sober affair, set in the time of legends - meaning the usual couple of square miles dug out of J.R.R. Tolkien's back garden. Through a contrived series of coincidences, a thief, a wizard, and a knight all touch a magic MacGuffin at the same time and now they're stuck together in one body, switching between the three forms where necessary. But they can still talk amongst themselves, and it is a little disquieting to see a beautiful female rogue speaking in a voice like Brian Blessed.
Each character has their own special skills: the thief can swing on ropes in a way that makes her skirt fly pleasingly up, the wizard can conjure simple solid objects because he's got access to the level editor, and the knight can use a sword and shield. Although, for some stupid reason, he points his shield at the mouse pointer rather than the direction he's facing, something which took me a few axe-blades to the codpiece to figure out.
Trine is best described as a physics platformer, in that half the platforms are on hinges and see-saws and you must combine jumping, swinging, and magically conjured physics objects to fabricate a way across the levels. And the key phrase with Trine is, "Was I supposed to do that?" After climbing onto a high ledge by way of stacked boxes for the umpteenth time I'll take a look back at the various other physics objects and rotating platforms scattered around, and wonder if somewhere out there I'm making a puzzle designer cry.
The thought gets even more nagging later on when the wizard gets the ability to create floating platforms, 'cause then I was just breezing over every hazard like I've got fucking noclip on. And most of the big boss monsters I found I could kill by standing somewhere out of their reach and shooting them repeatedly in the face. I asked myself, "Is this bad design or am I just that good?" Anyway, the characters are nicely rounded and the gameplay is generally entertaining so it's worth a look. If you can imagine The Lost Vikings knocking up LittleBigPlanet, then the Internet has clearly desensitized you to retarded sexualisation.
A terrible mishap of science: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
But why would a thief wear bright white clothing unless they were stealing things in the arctic or at a wedding
You can't have half a dimension you idiots