PAX Prime, the increasingly gargantuan expo set up by the chaps at Penny Arcade, is almost upon us. One of the most enjoyable parts of the whole shindig is the selection of the PAX 10, a group of indie games selected to enjoy the exposure that such a large platform can bring. Super Meat Boy and Bastion were both picked last year; not bad company to be in. This year there are some familiar titles and one that’s entirely new to me. From DigiPen, A Flipping Good Time is a platformer with a gravity switch mechanic you may have seen before, but do not be deterred. This is fun times. And it won’t cost you a penny.
Platformers used to be about jumping, I’m sure of it. Nowadays, the lazy reprobates that pass for heroes in the genre can’t be bothered to hurl themselves through the air using their own two legs. These are no athletes. Instead of a hop, skip and jump they choose to bend the laws of physics, overturning gravity and launching toward the ceiling in the manner of some nightmare creature. They then remain firmly planted on that ceiling as if that were a perfectly acceptable thing to do in a civilised society. The most nefarious example is Captain Viridian of VVVVVV. Up and down had no meaning to the captain. Gravity was a force to be used willy-nilly to traverse devious and horrible screens littered with spikes. Disgraceful behaviour.
In A Flipping Good Time, the lead character doesn’t control gravity and he can jump. In that sense, the game is an accurate simulation of my life. However, gravity quickly proves itself to be unstable and at that point the illusion is broken.
There are bubbles with arrows on. If they point up, touching them will spin the character upside down and send him flying upwards. To get back to the floor, touch a bubble that points down. This makes the bubble vanish, which means there are a limited number of flips to activate by this method. However, there are also sections of floor with arrows on. Same principle applies here, except these don’t disappear when touched. Crucially, you can’t choose whether to activate them. Touch them and off you go, Newton be damned.
As in VVVVVV, there are spikes. Avoid them. You’ll see other stuff that you want to avoid later on but in all honesty, it’s mostly spikes. No matter though because avoiding them is jolly good fun. Each level has a trail of fireflies to collect as you travel through it, thus encouraging risky manoeuvres. You don’t need them but you’ll want them, I promise you. Not only are they shiny but they provide extra lives. There are also diamonds to grab but I’m much too rubbish to do that so I quickly stopped wanting them. Maybe braver men will fare better.
I’m a fan of the lighthearted graphical style and the level design is ace, becoming steadily more complex but never too frustrating. It’s also short enough to finish in one sitting. VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy both destroyed my will eventually, though I loved them both dearly, but both games dealt with death exceptionally well. You die and are almost instantly back in action, never far from where you failed so miserably for the umpteenth time. The same is true here. Checkpoints are spread fairly without destroying the challenge. In fact, the whole game is finely tuned. As you change direction in midair the sense of momentum is satisfying and somehow right.
The setting is rather bland and repetitive, but I found it charming. There’s also no attempt to provide context or narrative, which is probably for the best, even though I would have liked a little something, no matter how abstract. But what we have seems to be the tale of a boy exploring a cavern for no other reason than to have a flipping good time. Nothing wrong with that and I expect we’ll see more from these fellows when they graduate from DigiPen.
It’s always worth checking out the other exalted members of the PAX 10 so be sure to do that. If you pay attention, however, you will notice that you have been introduced to several at this fine establishment already. Also worth noting is that eight of the ten are PC games, which is just lovely.