Wot I Think: Snapshot

By Alec Meer on September 5th, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

Photography-based puzzle-platformer Snapshot is the latest from depict1 dev Retro Affect (one half of which is Kyle Pulver, he of Offspring Fling fame). Long-anticipated, it finally gave itself to the world last week. Here’s what I made of it.

Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely.

Utter bastard.

Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely

BASTARD BASTARD BASTARD BASTARD.

To be fair, the same hug-then-suckerpunch ethos has been true of pretty much any of the New Wave Platformers/Puzzlers (looky there, I completely invented a classification, and it doesn’t really mean anything at all – games journalism!). They lure you with charm, they do clever genre-bending, spacetime-twisting things that make you feel oh so terribly clever as you appear to master them, and then suddenly BAM!

Total bastard.

Lest this sound like complaint, that’s not my point. At least I don’t believe so, though I do admit that there’s usually at one level where I might use a word that starts with C rather than B, where I think the balance and flow really is a bit off. But usually, it’s the conquering of the total bastard and the subsequent moving on to another period of joyful apparent mastery of leftfield concepts that can make games like Snapshot so magnetic. It is rewarding me, but it also challenging me, and that drives me on.

Snapshot is a puzzle-platform game, much like one of its team’s previous game, Offspring Fling. From art style down to structure and that challenge sweet-spot, it’s strongly reminiscent of Kyle Pulver’s last effort but bolder, smarter, dragging stranger elements into a reassuringly familiar setup and aesthetic that feels like it has existed since the dawn of gaming. (It hasn’t. It just feels like it. In a good way).

A staple: you’ve got to get to the exit.

A staple: you have to hop across platforms, over spikes, that sort of thing.

A staple: 16 bit-esque 2D graphics, starring a consciously cute, slightly child-like character whose story and world are more implied than told.

A staple: levels divided into worlds and stages, which can be revisited at any point to pursue greater mastery of times and collectibles.

Not a staple: using the mouse to move a camera-like viewfinder around the screen, capturing certain parts of it which you can then rematerialise in other parts of it. For instance, a crate which you can use to reach higher places, or hold down a switch that you can’t reach yourself. You jump around a world that you gently, and very specifically, reshape to meet your purpose. If it sounds complicated to control, it really isn’t – a lifetime of movement with one hand and camera with the other meant this felt absolutely natural. It’s just that the camera was that much more literal this time around, which entailed two simultaneous viewpoints to some extent.

It is elegant in concept, it is elegant in execution, and it escalates to greater complexity elegantly. Soon enough you’re capturing giant snowballs in mid-motion, with their momentum as well as their existence recreated in the new spot so they carry only rolling even though they’re on the other side of the level. Conceptually it could be said to be a bit like Portal, in that you use a reticule to create access to the inaccessible, but it doesn’t play like it.

That’s primarily because you can’t capture any old thing, so this is more key-in-lock than open experimentation – you’re restricted to specific objects, some of which are cunningly blocked from being snapshottable until you’ve solved some other part of the puzzle that removes the red glaze which imprisons them. Sometimes this is frustrating – I can see a block that could solve all my problems, but it’s not one of the blocks that can be grabbed, so I’m stuck. But being able to grab that block is nowhere near as satisfying as discovering that , just around the corner, there’s an elephant I can capture, and then bounce upon its curiously rubbery back to reach a new platform. Poor elephant. Poor, vital elephant.

Snapshot plays with the idea of photography too, so later puzzles might see you looking at background objects from specific angles in order that they appear to combine into a single, capturable entity. I’d best say no more in that regard – mechanical spoilers and all that. Point is that it doesn’t rest on its conceptual laurels, instead finding plenty of ways to bulk up a simple, impressively intuitive concept.

Problems? Not really. I suppose, like Offspring Fling the look does leave me a little cold, but only to the point that I don’t 100% connect to it, not that I dislike it in any way. If that’s the developers’ preferred aesthetic that’s the developer’s preferred aesthetic, it’s just that in both look and structure (bonuses for beating best times, etc) seems to scream “I WANT TO BE A BEST-SELLING IPHONE GAME LIKE CUT THE ROPE” to me. Which is a perfectly unfair accusation, seeing as Offspring Fling hasn’t made its way to iOS yet, which would seem to suggest it’s not a deliberate intention after all.

I think what I like most about Snapshot, outside the apparent effortlessness with which it realises its concept, is that it’s so artless. There are no delusions of grandeur here, no browbeating with cleverness or metaphor, and not even any chest-thumping about how challenging it is. It has a great concept and it wants to do great things with it. It does. In that, it feels like a game from the fondly-remembered past, rather than the actual past of wildly spiking difficulty, no save system and the inability to do anything not possible on a three-button gamepad. It’s an innocent in a dirty world. It’s a lovely bastard.

Snapshot is out now, costing $10/£7, with an extra %10 off for the next few hours.

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23 Comments »

  1. Berzee says:

    Exciting! I think this game looks quite good — I’m not drawn in by most platformers-with-a-twist (even Offspring Fling) but this sounds and looks fun. I would buy it right now but I recently bought Academagia and am trying to at least partially finish one thing before I buy another. =P I will buy it in THE FUTURE, be fairly sure of that!

    I only wish it was available for direct download instead of only on Steam.

    • Shadowcat says:

      After all that, and it’s only on Steam. Come on developers, give us options!

  2. Berzee says:

    Also, I thought the protagonist was an ant, until I read that it is a robot. Somehow the game seems ever so slightly less cool now. =( At least it’s an ant-looking robot.

  3. dontnormally says:

    ‘Twas a great pleasure at PAX East last year.

  4. w00tasaurus says:

    thanks, I’ve been waiting for a proper review of this. I’ll be getting it soon.

  5. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    Elephants!

    • Skabooga says:

      I’m sure someone will correct me below, but I cannot think of a game in which I disliked the elephants which appeared therein. Special mention goes to Cave Story, whose elephants were adorable, to the point where I wouldn’t even think of attacking them.

      • tobecooper says:

        Well, elephants in Postal 2 – Apocalypse Weekend were too stompy for their own sake. And the mission objective was to hunt them down using a scythe. But you seem like a mentally-stable fellow, so I doubt you played this game.

        Surely, there were also some strategy games with Alexander the Great who had elephant units acting as tanks/killing machines.

        All in all, I may not be saying that elephants are evil, but that’s exactly what I’m thinking.

      • essentialatom says:

        Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 had an elephant that pooed on you repeatedly. Bastard.

      • Turquoise Days says:

        I’ll follow tobecooper and drop in the panzerphants from Medieval 2 TW. Elephants with cannons on their backs! Amazingly awesome as they were, they were utter bastards.

      • Skabooga says:

        Wow, those are some elephants you people mentioned. Thanks for ruining my faith in pachyderm-kind. :(

  6. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    Alec, I’d suggest to link your Offspring Fling WIT above, as both the WIT and the game are awesome.

  7. dbsmith says:

    This sentence is exactly why I love RPS so much:

    “To be fair, the same hug-then-suckerpunch ethos has been true of pretty much any of the New Wave Platformers/Puzzlers (looky there, I completely invented a classification, and it doesn’t really mean anything at all – games journalism!).”

  8. man-eater chimp says:

    Looks good, very very good. The trailer makes it even more appealing. I will definitely take a crack at this when I can scrape together seven British pounds (of currency, not of carpet or ceiling tiles or anything of that nature).

  9. Hulk Handsome says:

    This looks like it would make a TERRIBLE iOS game, I don’t know what you’re on about there. Seems a combo of mouse and keyboard is pretty essential.

    • P7uen says:

      I don’t think “looks” means what you think it means. I think you mean it controls like a TERRIBLE iOS game, but Alec was making the comparison of art style to those cutesy games, which I agree with.

      Very interested in this though, I have passed by most of this brave new genre, apart from Portal and Braid, but this might be another exception.

  10. Zephos says:

    Really? No mention of I Wish I Were the Moon?

    • P7uen says:

      He’s already given you all those words and spent time playing it for you. You want I Wish I Were The Moon on a stick don’t you!

  11. TechnicalBen says:

    Yey! Actual NEW mechanics that even add to gameplay. See that AAA dev teams?!

  12. Dervish says:

    It’s dismaying that “artless” is explained as “no delusions of grandeur here, no browbeating with cleverness or metaphor, and not even any chest-thumping about how challenging it is.” I get what you’re saying, and you did say “…outside the apparent effortlessness with which it realises its concept,” but how about we call those other games artless and the well-designed ones artful?