Ripple Dot Zero Is Best And Worst Of Retro Platformers

By Nathan Grayson on July 3rd, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

those shoes are way too big for that penguin

Ripple Dot Zero is kind of astounding. I say that partially because it’s about a test-tube-birthed jetpack penguin, but mostly because it is early ’90s platforming. The amount of love that clearly went into each and every facet of its multi-year production is nearly mindblowing. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this post, because it’s insanely brilliant – a steaming fresh bowl of the bizarre genre soup that made game soundtracks of the day so memorable. The game’s look is spot-on, too, spanning everything from underground labs to desolate cyberscapes to cities in the clouds. Each level, meanwhile, is enormously multi-pathed and riddled with secrets. Ripple Dot Zero might just be the Retro Platformer To End All Retro Platformers (Finally) – or at least, it would be if it were more fun to actually, you know, play.

I want to like this one a lot more than I do, but I just can’t. It’s a massive, completely free labor of love – a tearfully yodeled ode to Sonic The Hedgehog,  Super Metroid, and many others – but it’s utterly devoid of any unique hook. Basically, you just walk/leap/jetpack around and collect various objects (mostly pills) without much in the way of interesting puzzles or fascinating fights to slow you down.

Sure, you can nab items and uncover hidden routes, but there’s no real depth or challenge. I mean, I fully appreciate that levels are meticulously designed so as to almost never be unfair or unclear. The developers clearly put painstaking effort into getting everything just right – so that flow and forward motion rarely ever miss so much as a single step. But without interesting mechanics (or, for that matter, movement that feels particularly decent), there’s no thrill. No compulsion to keep playing and discovering. It all feels hollow.

Ripple Dot Zero absolutely, gloriously nails the aesthetic side of things, but fails to fully grasp the mechanical element. It’s a strange line to walk – effortlessly replicating one part of the past while largely missing the point of another – and the result is a game that’s just OK. Give it a try for its out-of-this-world, er, world, music, and imagination. Just don’t expect a modern classic in classic classic’s clothing.

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15 Comments »

  1. JeCa says:

    And the homepage has a Swedish poster in the background. Why am I not surprised?

    Currently waiting through the ad to play the game, might edit with initial opinion soon

    EDIT: Yup, I think the article has it pretty spot on. I do think the base movement mechanics are pretty satisfying, with the perfect amount of inertia for my liking, and I would probably have spent hours with this had it been released on 15 floppy discs 14 years ago. But now I just got bored after the third level. Shame though

  2. b0rsuk says:

    A free to play, browser game lacks depth. I’m shocked. SHOCKED!

  3. Kobest says:

    Tried it out yesterday, and I find myself agreeing with the article. While the content is really something, there wasn’t anything that kept me going after the third level.

    Perhaps it gets better later on?

  4. RobF says:

    God, that lead character is awful. What were they thinking?

  5. Snids says:

    It’s very much like a European Amiga title. But also Cool Spot.

    • Benny says:

      Yup. That logo reeks of Psygnosis/Roger Dean’s art style. I like.

    • Turkey says:

      I was never a big fan of those types of platformers. Their controls felt too loose and they were always about collecting a bunch of stuff to get points rather than tight level design.

      • Caiman says:

        Loose controls is my first and main problem with this, and there’s a very perceptible lag between button press and movement which makes fine control and jumping very frustrating. Could be a browser issue, but I’m not about to launch the horror of IE to test that out.

    • DrScuttles says:

      I’m getting flashes of Team 17′s Superfrog and Assassin: Special Edition. And that just makes me sad to remember a time when they made games that weren’t Worms.

  6. Zyrxil says:

    I really really wish for a retro style Vectorman 3.

  7. misterT0AST says:

    I think this is to Sonic what Super Tux was to Mario. People feel compelled to make a free, penguinized PC version of old 2d platformers.

  8. Grayman says:

    I liked the art. A little floaty but the presentation is very good.

  9. The Random One says:

    That… that reminded me a lot of Jazz Jackrabbit.

  10. Phasma Felis says:

    I wonder if the problems Nathan mentions are the result of it being too accurate to its retro setting? I recall having the same issues with a majority of the platformers out there in the late 80s and early/mid-90s; they’re just harder to ignore now that they’re not ubiquitous.

    Even so, it really is flabbergasting how well it captures that era. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it. A lot of deliberately retro-styled games aim at a specific 80s-era 8-bit platform (NES, C64), but I’ve never seen any that captures the zeitgeist of the Genesis/SNES/Amiga era quite like this does.