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.