Have you ever walked past a crowd of people, got a bit self-conscious, and then forgotten how to walk? No? Okay, maybe it’s just us, but it’s the feeling that we get every time we boot up Biped, and try to reacquaint ourselves with how to flipping walk, stumbling around like a flamingo without knees. It was the case from the first hour all the way to the end credits, and we still don’t feel like we’ve mastered it.
In Biped, you are a bipedal robot, and the analog sticks control each leg independently. If you want to walk forward, then it’s the left analog stick, then right, then left, et cetera. There’s no gracefulness in the movement: you are going to be waddling around each level. My family were peeved whenever I turned the game on, as my controller would click-clack every time I tried to walk, and it only got worse when I tried to run.
Our first feeling was concern, actually. It’s not a natural or comfortable thing to do, flicking the sticks in this way, and we were getting carpal tunnel by the end of the tutorial level. Was it all going to be like this? Plus, it never really felt precise, not because there was latency or anything like that – we just didn’t have a grasp on which leg needed moving next. More often than not, we looked like we were chucked out of a club for being disorderly, wobbling about and looking for a lamppost to lean on.
As it turned out, we should have had more faith in the developers, NExT Studios. They don’t expect you to master this clumsy interaction – in fact, it’s more of a feature than anything. The sections, when they require you to walk in this way, are forgiving and short. The game also layers on ‘skate’ controls, where you can slide along by pushing both sticks in one direction. It was refreshing to see the developers understanding the limits of their own USP and not putting too much pressure on it. There are plenty of devs who could learn a thing or two from them.
Biped is more interested in getting you to use your independently controlled legs than walking with them. This is a traditional 3D linear platformer, and it’s massively imaginative, dropping in obstacles that get you thinking creatively. Platforms appear with numbers flashing on them, displaying the number of legs you’ll need on the floor to get them moving. Hacksaws can be grabbed with your non-trailing leg to slice through the environment. Ratchet and Clank-style grindrails propel you through the level, but give you the opportunity to stick out a leg and grab collectibles.
Ideas barely stick around for five minutes before you’re shuttled onto the next, which is one of Biped’s great virtues. It’s almost Mario-like in its barrelling creativity, serving you up some rapids to navigate in a raft, before asking you to manipulate a large pinball-like table. There’s no chance to stop and get bored, as the levels are compact, with lightweight puzzles backing onto one another.
It should be noted that Biped is not particularly difficult. Only a couple of puzzles will tax you at all, mostly because they feel like they’ve been designed for co-op, making them more cumbersome for a solo player (more on co-op in a moment). There was room for the game to ramp up a couple more notches, if we’re being honest, as it rarely pushes you to problem-solve. Everything is obvious from the get-go.
The ending will pop into view earlier than you’d like, too. There are only eight levels here, if we’re being generous (one is the tutorial), and the lack of difficulty means you’ll whip through them at a slightly awkward-looking jog. ‘Pro-difficulty’ levels up the intensity a wee bit, but you might feel that you’ve seen enough of the game to really bother. There’s no incentive to replay a level, unless you’re motivated by hats or costumes, or completing the secondary objectives of collecting stars, finishing within a time limit, or reaching the end without dying. Biped badly misses a reason to replay.
There are achievements to chase of course, and it’s through them that the devs show their hand, and their love of the number 2. Virtually every achievement in Biped can only be gained in co-op. Biped is meant to be played with another human, and the game’s definitely a richer experience with a mate. The fiddlier puzzles suddenly make sense in co-op, and the robot strangers you meet along the way are switched out for a human partner. It can also be a silly, slapstick game, thanks to the controls, so you’ll end up in fits of giggles as you perform another scene from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
The controls aren’t perfect. Skating around the level is by far the best way to get around, but it’s not particularly clear when you can skate or not. The rules seem arbitrary, and you’ll be skidding to a stop for reasons you can’t quite pin down. Attaching yourself to a lever, rope or button is perfectly intuitive, but separating yourself from them – at speed, in certain levels – is not easy. And the less said about the escort-based raft sections, the better.
They’re minor blots, though. It’s hard to feel anything but joy in a game that’s so bright, breezy and colourful. Biped is a game that would play well with more casual gamers, where it’s always clear what to do, and failure is punished with nothing more than a respawn at the nearest platform. This is a game that wants you to keep trucking on and exploring, and it’s hard to imagine a player who wouldn’t want to see it to the end.
Curiously, Biped would have been a perfectly good platformer without the left-stick, right-stick controls. The design soon grows a bit bored of getting you to walk anywhere, and the puzzles would have been fun if you’d torn them out and chucked them into a Super Lucky’s Tale or Spyro. That’s more an observation than a criticism, as Biped is fun all the way to the end – one could say it… has legs.
If you have an evening free and a partner to play with, Biped on Xbox One is a jolly good time. If you don’t have a co-op partner, well, it’s still worth jumping in two-feet-first. Just don’t expect to be challenged, nor be in its world for particularly long.