I keep forgetting just how far video games have come. I still assume that everyone is familiar with the NES, totally misremembering just how long ago it was when Nintendo’s first home console hit the shelves. We’re talking 40 odd years ago now. What a terrifying thought.
Anyhow, during its reign, a distinct style of platformer proved to be very popular, almost symbolic of the 8-bit console era. These games are very much the inspiration for Project Blue, which is a classic industrial platformer set in a dystopian world where homeless young people find themselves the subjects of horrific experiments.
You play as the titular Project Blue, who escapes captivity after a successful bio-energy augmentation and sets about bringing down the shady company known as Omni-Corp based in Neo Hong Kong. The game is set over four different areas that boast secret rooms and alternative routes. In all honesty, I didn’t see much of this until the second zone, after Theta Lab. It is worth noting, however, that the layout will change depending on the difficulty you select.
Now, such games can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to difficulty, and Project Blue is no exception. It’s hard, even on normal mode which is the “easiest” choice available to you. It’s one of those games that you can tell looks like a challenge just from the screenshots.
Blue can be hard to handle, and feels heavy for such a little collection of pixels. Jumping also comes with a built-in delay, meaning I sprinted off the edge of several platforms, to many unfortunate deaths. Lives are precious, and extra ones are hard earned by collecting tokens dotted around the environments. If you run out (and you will) there is the option to continue from the previous checkpoint that may be a fair way back. In true retro tradition, there’s no saving your progress so you can return to your playthrough later on. So if you start, be prepared to stick it out for the long run.
I quickly realised the only really effective way to go the distance in Project Blue was learning the best route through each area by trial and error. Enemies, which seem basic enough, are surprisingly nimble and quick to react. Rushing through will only end badly, meaning that taking time to study their movement patterns and attacks is the only way to avoid a grisly end.
The toughest foes come in the form of boss battles, as you may expect. These creatures will likely take you a few attempts to beat, at least until you have studied their routine as they whizz around your screen. Despite the absence of a health bar, they will take a fair few hits before you take them down.
Blue has limited options in how to approach the escape from the nightmarish Omni-Corp. It essentially boils down to a choice between shooting your way through or trying to avoid the dangers instead. Some enemies are immune to your peashooter, even though you can find limited upgrades for it. Project Blue is made up of 256 screens in total, which also present numerous puzzle style scenarios for you to troubleshoot and find a way through. Lasers, rocks and even drones will all prove deadly at some point.
The gameplay is pretty linear in Project Blue, but new areas offer more than cosmetic glimmers of variety. Gizmos such as the propeller hat and parachute make for some entertaining passages of play. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the brief change of pace is welcome.
When all is said and done, the developer duo FrankenGraphics and ToggleSwitch have nailed the vibe perfectly. This carries right through to the swappable screen borders and in-game manual. You would easily be forgiven for thinking Project Blue was released in the 80’s heyday of the NES console. I found this to work both for and against the game.
On the one hand Project Blue is an incredibly faithful tribute to NES games of yesteryear. Visually and aurally it’s spot on. The bleak, labyrinth-like megastructures are crawling with enemies and create an environment full of danger, offering little respite. The soundtrack complements this well too, with 22 original songs featuring in the game.
However, Project Blue is unashamedly aimed at fans of the genre. There’s no hand holding or attempts to gently break you in. Things get going pretty much immediately, and you’ll know from the first few minutes (or by watching a bit of gameplay) whether this is one for you or not.
My taste in games must be changing as I shifted from relishing the challenge before me, to frustration and annoyance at an endless death cycle, more quickly than I usually do. I don’t necessarily think this is down to anything being wrong with Project Blue, it’s just games such as this have become less appealing over time.
Project Blue is a perfect fit for those after a retro inspired platforming challenge. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to find much here to win you over.