The humble platform puzzler has been around with us since the beginning of time. Manoeuvring ourselves from A to B in the craziest way, avoiding obstacles and foes who are out to destroy you, is something that has frequented the gaming scene for decades – think Donkey Kong, Manic Miner and Super Meat Boy; games that cause anger. But it also seems to keep developers and accessories manufacturers in a job, with gamers flocking to the experiences, before needing to buy new controllers in their millions as they are thrown at the wall. Emma: Lost In Memories is the latest to add to the canon of platforming single screen nightmares. And after many an hour of frustration, I’ve just about calmed down enough to give you my thoughts on this fiendish game.
You play the main character; a character who is, of course, called Emma. Emma is a young girl who at the start of the game leaves home in search and pursuit of a magical owl. That’s about all the linear narrative you’ll be getting in this game though, because from there on out it’s all about the platform-fuelled puzzle world you’re going to encounter.
As each level you are presented with appears fully on the screen, you discover Emma waiting for action, with a shining light representing the exit somewhere on the other side of the stage. In between there are walls, floors, and obstacles to get over. It’s the usual fare for a game of this kind but along those staples is a little twist, separating it from the common platformer.
You see, in order to move Emma you have to press the A button, and once you do this she won’t stop. So the decisions you make to traverse the level have to be precise, seeing you utilising split-second timing. There is however an arsenal of moves at hand, helping Emma through the madness ahead, mostly that of a jump, a double jump, a low-level dash, and the opportunity to go climbing. The thing is, the ground or level you are standing on or any wall you touch will start to rapidly disappear, so it is left to you to work out how to navigate each stage amid this extra level of peril. It’s all very original and is certainly an interesting premise; at all times Emma will test not just your reflexes but that magical side of your brain that is left to try and work out the intense puzzle-solving.
There are 50 levels in total, spread out over five worlds, and it must be said that these will test your skills to the limit. Each world comes with a slightly different aesthetic and a whole host of challenges for the player. You will die a lot, and when I say a lot I really mean it, as one mistake or slip-up will generally ruin your progress, leaving you to restart instantly. The good news in that regard is that the levels are short, and if you get the journey across it spot on then you can easily finish a level in under 20 seconds. The question is whether you can handle the intense repeat, die, repeat gameplay that this game demands from its participants. Honestly, I’ve found that from World 2 the levels ramp up in difficulty, at times almost impossibly so. But then that’s quite possibly more to do with my level of skill and advancing years rather than an issue with the game itself. You should, however, be warned.
That said, I’ve also experienced problems with the control scheme, and the controls have certainly been a bit hit and miss for me. The jumping is fine, and the dash works great, but the climbing up and down of walls never feels accurate enough, particularly when utilising the thumbsticks. Moving over to the D-pad makes things more responsive and enjoyable. Again though, Emma: Lost in Memories isn’t forgiving at all, and that level of punishment fast becomes unenjoyable. Personally I’d have liked to see something where it would be possible to slow time down for a couple of seconds in order to help the progress. But that’s just me, and others – you know, the more hardcore fans – will love the tricky gameplay.
Emma’s visuals employ a very minimal yet beautiful hand-drawn style, and this works supremely well in its 2D environments. The characters of the owl and Emma are well-drawn, and the text fonts that appear throughout the game are thoughtfully done. That is complemented by the sound design – it’s a lovely piece of composition that fits with the gameplay throughout.
Emma: Lost in Memories on Xbox One is a solid platformer, but it is certainly aimed at the more hardcore gamer; those who like to find, and enjoy, a proper challenge. Some of the controls can be less accurate than I would like, especially in regards to the climbing mechanic, but there is definitely a couple of hours of decent gameplay here for those with the staying power and skills. If you like your platforming experiences to be hard, fast and skilful, then Emma: Lost In Memories is the game for you.