By Nathan Grayson on July 4th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.
So, Platformines. It has many, many things going for it: loot and levels that are entirely randomly generated, art that’s inspired by retro chic but not reliant on it, a construction-based metagame, plenty of charm, and of course, a just-launched free beta. So I watched a trailer and thought to myself, “Gee, I can’t wait to rigorously put the beta through its paces side-by-side with this cup containing the blended remains of Borderlands, Diablo, Terraria, Minecraft, and Cave Story.” To be sure, it’s a promising place to start, but I’m not sure Platformines has entirely figured out where to take it.
Platformines is odd. It clearly knows that its direct inspirations did great things, but I’m not sure it knows exactly what made them great. So the beta started off by letting me customize my character in all sorts of silly, delightful ways – especially with hats, because those are all the rage right now. And then it bombarded me with tutorial screens for all the simplest things, because everyone plays games these days, but – paradoxically – apparently no one’s ever played a game before. Before too terribly long, however, the hub area gave way to the colossal main cavern, which was randomly generated. Guns, similarly, were birthed into the world in a messy soup of random stats.
That giant randomized cave, though? There was hardly anything to it. Platforming, for instance, wasn’t a challenge – nor was it used to create interesting battle scenarios, ala Cave Story. Instead, it simply served as a means of movement ever onward and upward. Areas, meanwhile, were full of uninteresting, same-y enemies, loot, the occasional spike trap, and little else. Swinging platforms livened things up a bit, though, so there’s definitely hope for hopping that – taken on its own – felt fairly satisfying.
My rhythm, however, quickly devolved into “Kill dudes, collect stuff, fill inventory, warp back to hub and sell stuff, repeat.” In Platformines’ defense, the world’s full of hub portals, so the constant back-and-forth never got annoying. But it also never really hooked me. The basic mechanics of shooting just didn’t feel particularly amazing. Guns, especially, came off as wooden and hollow, with enemies’ HP meters serving as the only indication I’d actually done anything.
Further, the flow of combat became extremely awkward as soon as I took a couple hits, as I had to pause and scroll through my inventory to use health items. During more hectic moments, this killed the excitement (instead of, you know, my enemies) and left me vulnerable to more punishment the second the pause screen disappeared back into its mighty menu dimension. I have to commend Platformines, however, for minimizing frustration by throwing me right back into the thick of things post-death. That, at least, is a basis for enjoyable challenge – assuming something’s done about combat’s terminal obsession with “red light, green light.”
Weaponry, too, currently suffers from “so close, yet so far away” syndrome. Instead of following in Borderlands’ footsteps and infusing weapons with all sorts of wild fire, lightning, and poison effects, Platformines’ beta seems content to simply raise and lower base stats like damage, range, and the like. There was, in other words no reason for me to say “Hallelujah” when it started raining guns. After all, the end result would just be more of the same. Granted, the trailer makes it seem like there might be a bit more to the gun selection as time goes on.
So there’s definitely potential here, but Platformines just needs to do more with it. More level variety, more weapon effects, more enemy types, more things to build than just one tediously prearranged drill, etc, etc, etc. It’s a solid, lavishly produced foundation that seems determined to create legitimate challenge while steering clear of frustration, but I’m hoping this one bakes in beta until it’s cooked all the way through. On the upside, the beta’s totally free and available to everyone, so you can give it a shot and offer some feedback, if you’re feeling so inclined.