If, like me, you grew up in the 90s, the games you more than likely remember will be 3D platformers. They were everywhere around the turn of the millennium, and responsible for some of our fondest memories growing up (The original Spyro trilogy still has a place in my heart).
But then, they just disappeared. Or rather, stopped being as good before stopping altogether. And as a result, there is a big void in today’s gaming landscape of decent 3D platformers. Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is a 3D platformer. Is it the one to fill the gap?
Upon first glance, Ginger certainly looks the part. The game is colourful, with a palette of bright colours bouncing off the screen. Not blindingly bright like Viva Piñata was, but bright enough to catch your attention. Lead character Ginger is also very cute, but don’t let that fool you; he is a little pocket-rocket that is a gift from the Gods, sent down to retrieve the crystals that have been displaced around the world. All this is explained in an opening monologue that, whilst it has a welcoming and gentle narration, discusses things like people dying, and may not be the most suitable material for any younger children wanting to play the game.
So the graphics fit the bill, how does the gameplay fare? Surprisingly well it has to be said. It does have a Jack-of-all-trades approach, rather than excelling in one particular area, but what it has included are all good features. There are 15 main levels in total, set across three distinct areas. These areas all act as central hubs where you will be, amongst other things: rescuing villagers by paying resources, re-building the town and running errands for villagers to unlock accessories in the shop. It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of this it becomes very easy to follow. Each of these tasks also increase a meter that ranges from 0% to 100%. Get the meter to 100% and that town is fully restored.
As well as the 15 main levels, there are 15 ‘bonus’ levels, with one unlocking after each main level you complete. These levels don’t have a theme like the main stages, and are instead a varying amount of platforms to jump across to reach yet more crystals. It’s pure platforming goodness and the later ones do get quite challenging.
Graphics: check. Gameplay: check. Lots of collectibles: check. Ginger is shaping up nicely. But now for the bad news, there are a couple of glitches. One of which is infuriating. That’s because occasionally the music will cut out across all levels in the game, which can be a shame because it’s actually pretty good. The game hub themes are relaxing and the inner levels tunes are all fitting with their theme, whether it be a haunted house or inside a volcano. Also though, a number of times I have been attacked by the various enemies throughout the levels, only to be sent miles across the map, thus requiring a level restart. And why doesn’t the game just put you back to the latest checkpoint? I will explain below.
The checkpoints don’t work! At all. Ever. It’s rage inducing, especially on the boss levels. The whole idea for platformer bosses is to work out their mechanics, attack them, and repeat. Losing a few lives is acceptable because you always restart at the beginning of the fight. But in this case, it’s right back to the beginning of the whole level. Besides the boss fights though, it’s still annoying because there is a strong puzzle element to the levels and being required to do them three or four times because you missed one jump at the end really does spoil the experience. You may moan that games are too easy nowadays and this is how they used to be, but when a checkpoint is blatantly offered to me (and the words ‘Check Point’ pop up on screen), for it then to not work is a kick in the crystals.
But these issues aren’t exactly deal-breakers when we are still to decide whether Ginger is a 3D platformer for today’s gamer. The next platformer essential is a decent supporting cast. Spyro had a whole host of anthropomorphic animals help and hinder him, Crash Bandicoot had his sister and two masks vying for control amongst others. Ginger has them, but they are nowhere near as rounded as other games. Even the enemies that litter the levels get a bit boring after a while, only because there aren’t enough character models. They all look the part, following the same cutesy graphics as before, but lack any real personality. The friendlier characters greet you as you enter a new area, but then they need to be sought out if you want to speak to them again for guidance. And it’s guidance you don’t really need.
Where Ginger does go above and beyond the standard 3D platformer is the building component of the game. It brings back memories of the criminally underrated RPG classic Dark Cloud, as you collect the items you require to build within the levels (some can be collected in the hub areas as well) before deciding yourself where the new buildings should be placed. The components you collect are wood, stone, moneybags, and blue cubes which can only be described as Cosmic Cubes. It certainly adds another layer of creativity to the game.
Throughout the game there are 11 achievements to go for, and none are particularly tricky. If you aim for 100% completeness in each of the three main hubs you will automatically earn seven of them, with the remaining four for building each of the houses on offer.
Ginger: Beyond the Crystal may be the best 3D platformer available on the Xbox One currently, but this says more about the state of the genre as opposed to the actual game. Aside from the incredibly frustrating checkpoint glitch though, I did have fun with this game and the nostalgia was cranked up high. For fans of any of the aforementioned games, you will find something you like here. The completion time may be around a little shorter than the platformers of yore, but at around 15 hours is still a decent length and worth an investment.