By Nathan Grayson on October 31st, 2012 at 1:00 pm.
Incredipede‘s not like other physics-based puzzle games. Well, OK, it’s kind of like one – namely, developer Colin Northway’s own Fantastic Contraption. This time around, though, he’s used sinewy strands of muscle to bind QWOP-ish controls and heaps of charm to Contraption’s impressively freeform puzzle-solving. But do the added ingredients take the formula to new heights, or does the whole thing come tumbling down in a gruesome whir of blood, bone, and eyeball? Here’s wot I think.
Incredipede makes me smile. It makes me smile when one of my insane gyrating leg spider contraptions miraculously works as I intended. It makes me smile when Quozzle (the eyeball’s name; for reference, my eyes are named Tim and Thundertron) leaps into a level-completing beam of light and shuts tight in pure ethereal contentment. It makes me smile when one of my insane gyrating leg spider contraptions doesn’t work, and Quozzle flies into some sort of suicidal “And that’s our show, folks” tap dance right off a cliff. It makes me smile when I watch other people’s solutions and discover that they’re completely different from mine – not to mention far more inventive. It makes me smile when I realize that turning Quozzle into a hideous Cthulhu creature that’s prone to falling over backward in slow motion is an entirely viable strategy.
But Incredipede makes me frown, too – far more often than I’d like. And I think that’s in large part due to the aforementioned moments of brilliance, which are hardly few, but do tend to come fairly far between. Unfortunately, that’s Incredipede’s core problem: its central mechanic – overcoming rapid-fire (think World of Goo in terms of length) challenges by adding legs and push/pull muscles to Quozzle in any orientation you please – is positively excellent, but so much of its potential gets squandered on levels that are inconsistent, repetitive, or flat-out bad. To be sure, there are some amazing ones in the bunch, but they rarely exhibit the same spirit of exploration and wonderment that underlies Quozzle’s hilariously haphazard steps up the evolutionary ladder. New elements – for instance, lava, water, and wind – eventually come along to spice things up, but this certainly isn’t the gradual yet masterful build up of, say, something like Portal.
That said, I can totally understand why. On one hand, it can sometimes feel like Incredipede’s levels aren’t keeping things fresh at a steady enough clip, but on the other, there’s already so much to account for even when you’re simply trying to move across a slightly hilly landscape or save an essential item from plunging into an infinite abyss. The Portal comparison, then, isn’t exactly apt, seeing as that sort of puzzle is generally set up to be solved a certain way. Sure, it feels like you just took home the gold medal in braining at the Brainlympics in Brainsylvania, but here’s the dirty little secret: everyone else on Earth felt precisely the same rush when the game designer’s invisible hand guided them to the exact same conclusion.
Incredipede, meanwhile, demands that you earn that satisfaction. You sit. You think. You tweak. You fail – countless times, in fact. There’s a reason the level reset option is, by default, mapped to space bar – aka, the biggest key on the keyboard. Depending on the type of person you are, this aspect of Incredipede will either make you fall in love or have you tearing out your own eyes in frustration. For me, it ended up being a little of column A and a little of column B. (That is why I now wear a snazzy eyepatch.) On one hand, it was a fantastic relief to finally play a game in which the designer clearly assumed I was a human being with an IQ higher than “functionally dead and also some kind of sea urchin.” But on the other, that led to plenty of instances where I could only sit there and bang my/Quozzle’s head against a wall in vain hope that a solution would eventually fall out.
Fortunately, when worse came to absolute worst, I always had the option of simply watching other players’ solutions – many of which were so clever that I nearly felt like returning my Brainlympics medal. But I also couldn’t help but feel like some of the ensuing frustration could’ve been avoided if early levels were more intuitively designed. I mean, yes, they were fairly simple compared to what I eventually encountered, but they didn’t really do a terrific job of teaching. Heck, I emerged from the first world still unclear on how exactly muscles functioned (note: the arrow indicates the direction the joint will pull – not how the leg itself will move).
Meanwhile, Incredipede could’ve taken a cue from Fantastic Contraption in at least emphasizing me some of the basic structures that’d ultimately form the backbone of Quozzle’s adventures. Makeshift wheels, for instance, ended up being my (and based on a number of solution videos, everyone else’s) best friend. No, they were never a be-all, end-all problem-solver, but they often sparked all manner of far more elaborate ideas. It would’ve, I think, been a useful tool to have in my mental arsenal from the get-go.
But then, Incredipede – quite fittingly – really is what you make of it. Many puzzles can be solved with only a few muscles and bones, but why go straight for the destination when the scenic route’s so much more fun? Promisingly, there’s also a level editor that offers players access to every obstacle in the designers’ (admittedly limited) arsenal, and people have already dreamed up some admirably devious stuff. It’s in these moments of sublime absurdity – when you’ve constructed some monstrosity presumably born of a torrid affair between a frog and a jet plane to cross an obstacle course Evil Knievel wouldn’t have touched in his heyday – that Incredipede truly shines.
Between that and Quozzle’s subtly shifting not-quite-facial expressions, magical moments abound. I mean, once a game’s well and truly pissed me off, that’s usually the signal for my smile to quietly inch its way out of the house and keep a safe distance for a few hours. But Incredipede had this uncanny ability to turn my sour mood – whether it was born of a confusing puzzle or frustrating physics glitch – right back around in an instant. In that way, it was like an overly enthusiastic puppy. Sure, it tripped over its own four/37.5 legs and shattered the vase/my good time, but I can’t say “no” to that face.
So yes, Incredipede makes me smile. It just, you know, takes a while sometimes.