Wot I Think: 140

By Graham Smith on October 23rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

This is a dumb name for a game, though.

140 won the Excellence in Audio award at IGF 2013. It was created by Jeppe Carlsen in his spare time, because Carlsen works for Playdead during the day, where he was the lead designer on morbid, monochrome platformer Limbo. 140 is another sidescrolling platformer, but it’s the antithesis of that game. Let me tell you Wot I Think.

When Limbo came out, it was rightfully praised for its dark ambiance, its tactile puzzles and fluid animation. Not all who played it were so keen, though. I remember a certain pair of RPS writers having a fight with words, in which one argued that the game’s reliance on trial and error was mean-spirited.

Whether you minded or not – I didn’t – learning the rules of Limbo’s world and overcoming its challenges did depend on inevitable failure. 140 doesn’t. It’s challenging, and it will kill you, but its reliance on music lets it find smarter ways to point you towards success.

The game opens with a title screen, the (terrible) name “140″ built out of the same geometric shapes as its player character. When you stop, you are a square. When you move left or right, you are a circle. When you leap, you are a triangle, rotating in the air. This opening screen encapsulates the entire game: the background contains the pumping columns of a music equalizer; the fizzing colours change on every hard beat on its electronic soundtrack; the numbers 1-4-0 start to flicker with the high notes. It reminds me of the crack screen of an Amiga game.

When you begin, the game’s music wordlessly teaches you how to play.

A basic example: there is a platform in front of you in the air and, a few lengths ahead of it, the shadow of a second platform. On every two-second beat, one platform vanishes and the other appears. In order to get across the chasm, you have to jump into the air before the platform you’re intending to land on actually exists. The repetitive beat of the music makes it easy to time, because you already know when the next beat is coming.

From that simple idea, the entire game spills out. It introduces pulsing floors which punt you into the air, an electric hum which causes you to float, and shifting orbs of deadly static. At every stage, the musical rhythm tells you how to time your runs and jumps to overcome new obstacles. You find yourself instinctively leaping at the right time, darting under traps on your first attempt, performing exact actions without pause.

It's pretty, but it does look a little like a visual migraine.

This turns out to be a satisfying way to connect player movement with music, much more so than other recent attempts. It also means there’s never a moment where it’s not clear what something does, or where you’re forced through a lack of information to toss yourself towards unavoidable death just to see what happens. Everything is implied, and easily inferred.

Also, you know, fizzing neon colours. See? Antithesis of Limbo.

Each of the game’s three chapters ends with a boss-style battle, using rhythm and timing as the defining factor while borrowing new mechanics from shmups and rhythm-action games. The second of those challenges is a frustrating difficulty spike, but I appreciated the shifts in pacing.

There’s not too much more to it than that. It only took me an hour to complete 140. When you’re done, if you’re so inclined, you can tackle the same set of levels again, this time running them from right to left without checkpoints. I won’t have the patience.

There are a bunch of platform games that star geometric shapes. There are a bunch of games that tie their action or their world to music. 140 could be easily dismissed as Thomas Was Dancing, but it’s smartly executed and had me dancing in my chair at 10am in the morning.

140 is currently £3.29 on Steam and I once spent that much on a Smash Mouth single.

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19 Comments »

  1. InternetBatman says:

    How does this compare to Bit Trip Runner, which also integrates music with platforming?

    • Viroso says:

      Haven’t played this one but having played Bit Trip Runner I think they look very different. Bit Trip Runner was a rhythm game like Parappa or Guitar Hero dressed as a platformer. You always kept moving and the music was incomplete unless you got things right, and it was super super based on trial and error.

      From the review and the videos, this one doesn’t force you forwards all the time, you can take your time and the music exists to guide you, also it isn’t trial and error.

      • Falcon says:

        I don’t feel like Runner 2 is based on trial and error for the most part, but I could see that argument for certain levels in the first game. I almost always felt like I had enough time seeing things on the right side of the screen to react. Of course, I don’t always do it perfectly or on time, but that’s on me, not the game.

    • djbriandamage says:

      This is a very wishy-washy way to say it, but I felt the Bit Trip games’ music integration was merely incidental whereas the music in 140 is integral. In Bit Trip games you go bleep bloop in time with the music but not in a particularly meaningful way. 140′s bleeps and bloops are perfect – the music and onscreen response are complementary.

  2. mAk says:

    I’m surprised this is not the game’s main theme song.

  3. djbriandamage says:

    Regarding the name, not only are the numbers the shapes of your.. protagonist? but I believe the music is also 140 beats per minute. I think it’s fantastic that the name tells you nothing about the game unless you’ve played it. :)

    My gosh am I head over heels in love with this game. It’s as long as is appropriate and it’s precisely what I hoped it would be when I saw the trailer. This is one of those Audiosurf-style games that is a perfect marriage of music and design. Musicians and DJs will love this thing to bits.

  4. MOKKA says:

    I really liked the concept of the game, however I’ve found the relatively ‘noisy’ background to be difficult to look at after a while. Games don’t give me headaches that often, this sadly is one of them.

  5. The First Door says:

    Huh! This sounds really interesting, I’ll have to check it out. I was utterly enamoured with the levels in Super Mario Galaxy which you played to a beat, so this seems right up my street!

  6. RuySan says:

    Thanks for posting the crack screen of an Amiga game. People who bought games back in the day didn’t knew what they were missing

    • MOKKA says:

      Up until today, I never realized that this screen only appeared on pirated copies of games.
      But then, we only had about four legitemately bought Amiga-Games back then…

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        Lumberjack_Man says:

        Aaah, Fairlight. Happy memories. Did anybody own legit Amiga games? I seem to remember only having a handful myself, and I’m sure they all came with the Amiga from it’s previous owner!
        To think we used to buy the newest games from car boot sales….

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        tigerfort says:

        Still not as much fun as the infamous copy protection on the BBC micro version of Frak!, where pirate copies displayed a picture of a sailing ship (with appropriate flag) and played the “Captain Pugwash” theme. Possibly the only occasion on which people pirated games they’d already legitimately bought just to see the protection in action.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Mind boggling thing is that the warez team basically put an advert there saying ‘Hey come see us at this meet up in Copenhagen’. Apparently that was before computer piracy got any attention from the law in Europe…

  7. Premium User Badge

    Tinus says:

    A small critique on the boss-fights: They exist.

    The pacing ramps up considerable, unique sets of mechanics (like bullet hell) are introduced with no prior allusion, and you get the rote trial and error play the rest of the game tries to avoid.

    It fits the theme of the musical climax the levels build up to, but they offered me more frustration that real excitement or variety.

    But other that that little bit of whining, the game is very enjoyable indeed. The synchronicity between the music and platforming mechanics may be simple, but they feel so very more-ish. I want more. :)

  8. putOnTheGlasses says:

    Yeah 140 will be the BPM, and actually not horrendously offensive for dubstep. Quite clever all in all.

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    Hey buddy don’t be no square

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    strangeloup says:

    The link to the Steam product page is broken, squire.

    Also: this is the most demoscene-y looking game I’ve seen in a while, and it’s just a little reminiscent of the wonderful (although currently PS3/Vita exclusive) Sound Shapes. These are both good things.

    Although, obviously, if it was a proper demoscene release, 140 would represent the amount of KB it’s been fit into by means of some kind of coding/witchcraft hybrid.

  11. identiti_crisis says:

    Grabbed this on Steam the other day since it was on sale and the trailer gave the impression of a tight, well-made game (also, music properly integrated into the gameplay, a real rarity). Now I might actually make time to play it!

    Such gluttonous times we (I) live in, huh?

    EDIT: Just completed it, took me an hour, too. It’s tricky, rewarding and the music works. Bit sticky and slow on the controls for my tastes, but I think that’s for timing with the music. The “bosses” are very different, but not too difficult once you figure out the patterns. Great little game (only three “levels”), just as I’d hoped. :)

  12. Low Life says:

    I much prefer something around 120.