Chromophobic and filled with spikes, Here Comes Launchman looks like a cousin of VVVVVV, but now that developers The Layabouts have made an alpha demo available, it’s possible to defy that comparison by actually playing the game. It’s true that in the afternoon I’ve spent with it, more time than I care to remember has involved evaporating upon contact with tapering points of instant murder and I have at times been taken aback by a sudden shift of the entire colour palette, but where VVVVVV demanded precision and had controls tuned for such, Launchman has a more bouncy and loose approach to life (and death). See for yourself with the demo, or follow me to more words across the inconveniently placed gap below.
Did everybody make it? Oh dear. Several readers appear to have mistimed their jump and exploded into a cloud of pixels. Moving swiftly on, let’s discuss what they should have done and what, presumably, the rest of you all did. They should have launched themselves and, yes, admittedly I should have told them that before they ran flailing into the abyss. No matter.
If they’d followed the example of Launchman, they would have been able to choose a trajectory and a power before releasing themselves like a cannon ball, skidding to a halt somewhere safe and friendly. Perhaps an armchair in front of a cheery open fire.
Actually, scratch that, because the momentum of the launch is carried through into the landing so they might have toppled straight into the fire. Better to land somewhere safer, like a padded cell. Then, to escape, they could use their telekinetic abilities to operate the lever outside the door.
Maybe it’s a surprise to you that Launchman can manipulate objects from afar. I’ll be honest, if I could launch myself hurtling through the air and also had telekinetic powers, I wouldn’t be called Launchman, I’d be called The Uncanny Mind Fondler but given the spike- and pit-laden world the poor blighter lives in, I can understand why the launching seems so important to him.
Whatever the name, the demo has done a bloody good job of convincing me that this is one man I’d like to become better acquainted with. The levels are cleverly designed and never too complex, with most of the challenge coming from the act of traversing the space rather than figuring out what to do next. And the looseness of motion, both when hurling an object and hurling yourself, doesn’t lead to frustration thanks to the ability to apply the brakes at any time, halting motion and allowing for a little more delicacy.
The two abilities combine throughout the levels and before long, switching between them, wall jumping, and screaming curses as a fragile weight is hurled and shatters against a button instead of depressing it are all common occurrences. Actually, I didn’t scream, curse or otherwise, a single time. There’s very little suffering and very little repetition, with few levels taking me more than a couple of attempts, but there are enough mechanics on display already, with elements overlapping and new ideas being introduced, to hint at trials to come.
Also, despite this being an alpha demo, nothing seemed to be missing or broken. The only slightly nigglesome aspect was the length of the tutorial, during which text sometimes refused to advance any faster, no matter how many buttons I hammered. Developers should take note: my approach to interactive tutorials is often to sit politely for thirty seconds and then to hammer every button on my keyboard. I refuse to learn anything unless it is written in a book or emerging from the face of a wizened professor.