With game development becoming far more accessible to the wider audience, it has been proven that you don’t need teams full of hundreds of people to create gaming masterpieces.
Just recently we have seen the release of Pumped BMX Pro on to Xbox One, with everything found within created by one solo developer. Now though, it’s Bony Yousuf who brings his individual efforts to Xbox One and for those who claim to be fans of the hardcore platform variety, this is one that’s sure to have you squeezing your remote in frustration. Should you be ready to welcome Almost There: The Platformer?
Now if you’ve yet to hear of Almost There, fear not, I’m sure it’s only a matter of days before you’ll see it plastered over YouTube and online lists as one of the hardest platformers out there. That’s not a negative of course and if those sorts of games are your thing – you know, like Super Meat Boy, Splasher, Hopiko or the many other ludicrously difficult titles – then brace yourself for yet another brutal yet brilliant platforming experience.
Almost There: The Platformer is a simplistic platform title that looks to utilise the reactions of players as they attempt to beat the many hazards that are set out through a vast selection of levels. The goal is simple – you take control of a square, and are required to get that square to the end of the level; an area indicated by a white floating diamond.
There are 155 levels to get through, spread out across three different worlds with multiple tiers in each. These tiers aren’t really all that important and the game would be just as understandable without them, but essentially they work as an indicator to a new set of challenges being introduced. Tier 1 of each world is the basic ‘learning the ropes’ type stage, whilst further tiers introduce new and increasingly difficult challenges that quickly raise the irritation levels beyond belief – particularly should you have not quite managed to master the perfect reactions required to dodge each and every hazard sent your way.
Hardcore platformers are often popular amongst the sadomasochistic gamers out there, however to make a memorable and successful experience, there are first a few basics that need to be absolutely spot on – the key being fluid and simple controls.
Fortunately, simple controls aren’t an issue here with Almost There, in fact it would be hard to argue that you could possibly even get anything more simple than just two key controls. That said though, they will require a little getting used to, mainly thanks to the unique implementation of the movement control. See, throughout the game, the essential controls in place are the A button which is used to jump, and the left thumbstick which moves the character square about. As you’d expect, such simplicity handles perfectly. What becomes slightly unusual however is that when it comes to vertically challenging levels the left stick becomes a jump of sorts, with whichever direction you push being the direction your square goes at that time.
For example, should you be climbing a vertical wall as a laser is fired in your direction, a quick flick of the left stick to the left or right is enough to send you in that direction for as long as you hold the stick, this can help players to jump onto a surface on the opposite side to avoid it should one be available. This action only works whilst you are already in the air – or a surface that isn’t the floor – but it’s one that even halfway through the game is still one that needs getting to grips with, all as new challenges and hazards began to arise. The challenge here comes when you are climbing a singular surface and have to jump off, then back on to, the surface with the left stick whilst ensuring you don’t fall in the process. While you can jump in any direction, gravity is also a factor and should you jump to far you will fall to what is usually yet another death, and it’s this that causes the majority of the challenge.
What’s more however is that each level in Almost There: The Platformer on Xbox One isn’t simply a one and done affair. Getting to the end of the level is enough to earn you at least one star for your efforts, but those wanting to earn all three stars on each will need to master the stage in the required amount of time too, with each level’s three-star time essentially being the equivalent of the quickest possible time you could actually complete the level if you ran it with no mistakes. Mistakes are something you get used to though – as you mess up for the hundredth time – all as you try to figure out just how to avoid the saw blades, angled points, laser beams and so on that are looking to destroy you.
Another important feature of a platform game that so frequently forces death onto the player is the option to quickly restart. Sadly, Almost There doesn’t quite have one of those handy and efficient buttons that can send you back to the start of the level without a care in the world. Instead, to get back to the start after messing up, you will first need to pause and manually press restart. It’s not something that takes long at all of course, but as everyone knows, every good hardcore platformer has those instant restarts and this game is one in which the opportunity is sorely missed.
Edit: It turns out that there is in fact a dedicated quick restart button. Pressing X at any time will reset the level. My bad for missing it 🙁
All in all though and I have to say I’ve enjoyed my time with Almost There: The Platformer, but sadly there is one thing that stops this being one of the true greatest games in the genre – the reliance on unexpected and mostly invisible blocks that appear to jump great distances.
Now whilst I’ve already covered the awkward yet creative ‘left stick jump’ it’s worth noting that using this method to jump, or pressing the A button, will only launch the player a certain distance. In the later levels, this isn’t enough to cover some of the larger gaps that appear between obstacles. To jump these, you’ll need to press the A button just at the right time, with the hidden sweet spot being that which very briefly appears as a transparent white square, allowing you to propel a much greater distance.
This is my biggest issue with the game as in titles like Super Meat Boy, jumping greater distances is as simple as holding down another button. Should such a method have been utilised here, the gameplay would have been much easier to cope with, but by having to rely on these transparent squares to tell you when to jump, it’s almost necessary to fail a level the first time you play it, just so you can figure out where the elusive jump boosting squares are. As you can probably imagine, this takes a bit of the fun away.
As for the other aspects of Almost There and the overall tone of simplicity has been continued with basic colours and shapes making up the background art of each level, whilst the music is a rather catchy yet simplistic mashup of audio tones that makes for easy listening and helps the game along nicely.
Almost There: The Platformer is certainly a decent effort for a solo developer. It brings plenty of challenge, it has tons of levels and it very quickly ramps up the difficulty to let you know there’s no messing around to be had here. With no explanation to anything that is introduced, it is however up to you to learn for yourself and in a world in which handholding is the norm, Almost There provides a breath of fresh air, especially should you enjoy hardcore platformers. Sadly though, the awkward jumping is something that takes away from the engagement and whilst it isn’t game breaking in any way, there are plenty of other ways it could have been implemented to allow a more natural feel for the player.