There are not many old skool 8-bit style retro platformers on our chosen gaming platform. Oh, hang on – there are actually hundreds! Still, this hasn’t dissuaded another entry into the market, and Whipseey and the Lost Atlas has come about via the team at Blowfish Studios.
It appears that someone at Blowfish Studios has access to a sheet of tracing paper, and it has been put to good use. See, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas resembles a mash up of Super Mario Bros, Kirby and, weirdly, a dash of Pokemon. The main character, the titular Whipseey, looks like someone has taken Kirby to a hair salon and given him a quiff, some of the enemies look like carbon copies of the spiky turtle things from the Mario games, and weirdly, there are flying squirrel/raccoon things that look almost identical to Eevee. Other enemies resemble the Dry Bones in Mario – even down to the animation when you hit them and they crumble into a pile of bones, only to pop back up a few seconds later. So, originality is not a strong point for Whipseey, but how does it play? Surely a good gameplay experience could outweigh this lack of new things to see?
Well, luckily, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas plays like a dream. It is brutally hard and you have a set amount of lives; once they are gone, that’s it… no continues, no second chances, you go back to the start of the level and begin the run to the boss from the start.
Getting to a boss with one life left, with only a smidgen of health is very much par for the course, and learning the bosses attack patterns is absolutely vital. Luckily, these are not particularly difficult to work out, but being able to execute the attacks at the right time is all part of the challenge. The second boss in particular stumped me for a while, as the pattern doesn’t seem to be fixed, and the introduction of little enemies into the mix had me chewing my pad in frustration.
With only five stages to go at, you’d think that this would be a short game to complete, but each of those five stages is filled with other screens to conquer, including a memorable train ride that almost left a controller shaped hole in the nearest wall. With a long run through levels, and the boss to take down, using only the lives available to you, this is a stiff challenge; no mistake. Luckily, enemies that you defeat drop coins, and if you can collect 100 of these coins, you are awarded with an extra life.
Sadly, there are not usually enough enemies in a stage to get these extra lives with any degree of certainty, especially the fifth world where the aforementioned Dry Bones type enemies live, as they don’t die! So, learning the patterns of the levels in each world, learning the ways that the enemies move and attack, and hoping for a good dose of luck is needed if you are to succeed. And that’s without mentioning the fact that the bosses are another level of challenge, albeit on an inconsistent level, with the second boss being super hard, but the first and third giving up with nary a whimper. They are a fairly imaginative bunch though, so props have to go to Blowfish for that.
Visually and things are very retro, with the story presented as an 8-bit series of images, showing Whipseey being sucked into a book – presumably the Lost Atlas of the title. There is a pleasing amount of personality to the sprites, whether in terms of the enemies or Whipseey himself, and seeing him meet his demise on spikes or by mistiming his whip attack looks absolutely agonising. Seeing his little face screw up in pain as he expires is heartbreaking the first few times, and letting him fall to his death if you mistime a whip swing almost makes you want to apologise to the little pink guy.
The controls are fine though, at least as far as jumping and moving go, but there does seem to be a little bit of confusion as to whether the whip attack actually makes contact with the enemies, especially the bosses. The third boss is a real problem here, with what I could have sworn was a perfectly timed jump whip failing to register time and again. Mostly though there are no issues with the controls, and the majority of the faults for the many, many deaths will be due to the skills laying on the other side of the controller.
All in all and Whipseey and the Lost Atlas on Xbox One is a game that I can recommend to any fan of the retro platforming scene. The challenge and charming graphics are the draw here, with a fun playing experience on offer. It’s not the most original game you’ll ever play, but if you treat it as a love letter to those which have gone before it, maybe even as a homage, then it all makes sense and you can enjoy Whipseey for what it is.