Up is down! Left is right! Cats and dogs are not only getting married, but have also pushed the concept into a far more socially progressive realm than the whole of Western civilization! Oh wait, no. Sorry. Only that first thing’s actually true, and even then, just in Binary Boy. But – while probably not an adequate substitute for grand societal upheaval that leaves our mundane modern malaise a hazy memory – it’s an impressively intelligent little sidescroller. While appearances may suggest a retro platformer, there’s actually no platforming involved, and the sadly brief journey ends up in some gasp-inducingly psychedelic places. Basically, Binary Boy’s not what you’re expecting it to be, and it’s almost certainly better.
The entire game’s controlled solely via the arrow keys, and its main conceit is that you can flip between the surface and underside of each level at any given moment. So naturally, everything in this increasingly bizarre world is out to stop you from committing that oh-so-heinous of sidescrolling crimes: going right. Fish that look like those Swedish candies, incompetent pirates, lightning, and eventually levels themselves will defiantly go about their daily lives at you, so it’s up to you to go up. Or down. Whichever one stops you from instantly dying.
And believe me: you will die a lot. Binary Boy’s not easy by any means, and it’s downright punishing in some areas. Thankfully, the checkpoint system starts you back directly in front of whatever obstacle last put an end to your topsy turvy stroll, so frustration’s as short-lived as, well, you are. That said, I did find the fairly frequent demands of pixel-perfect accuracy a bit upsetting, as I was rarely able to get into a satisfying rhythm. Each step led right into an ill-prepared grave. But then, I’m sure it’s an amazing feeling once you finally earn Binary Boy’s surging geyser of intertwining chiptune sounds and, er, leisurely walking. Just know that I was nowhere near good enough to manage it on my first go-’round.
But there was still quite a lot to like. The second-to-last level, especially, was a real treat, with the entire environment shifting up and down to thwart my direction-defying antics. And the last level… well, I’m not entirely sure what it was. But it sure looked neat in a “I think it is time for me to go lie down and bleed the enormity of the universe out my ears” type of way.
Really, the main problem here is one of length. While shifting between different surfaces isn’t an entirely new mechanic, the deftness of level design in Binary Boy begs for more exploration. More clever spins on the task at hand. But instead, my meager skills were enough to see me to the end in under an hour. If you’re preternaturally good at these things (which, going by the relative-to-Nathan skill-o-meter, means not a dead rodent) you can probably blow through it in half the time. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still well worth the effort. I just wish there were more of it.