A Buggy Release: Viriax Impressions
Indie dev Locomalito is a bit of a genius. His work includes Hydorah, a stellar shmup, and L'Abbaye des Morts, a gorgeous ZX Spectrum-styled platformer, and he even goes as far as to provide box art and .pdf manuals for all his projects.
Tonight he's released Viriax, a game which grants you control of a tiny virus and tasks you with infecting and killing a whole human. Go, go, brave little virus! Locomalito was good enough to send us an advance copy, and my infectious opinions await below.
I have an all-new respect for virii. If Viriax is to be believed (spoiler: it almost certainly shouldn't be) successfully infecting a human is a task not to be undertaken lightly. You'll need persistence, skill and brass balls. Do microorganisms have balls? These are the questions you shouldn’t be wasting your time with if you are to successfully complete Viriax.
Here’s how the game works: you pick a body part, like the heart or the stomach, and to successfully infect it you must steer your tiny, noble virus (who I wasted no time in nicknaming Microbi Wan Kenobi) to the very top of that level, which should take you some 12-15 minutes.
This is where John Walker might approve, because getting to the top of each level is a matter of double jumping. Also triple jumping. And, yes, quadruple and quintuple and sextuple jumping, and so on, because your virus can “swim” upwards with each tap of the jump button as you see fit. You can also dive back downwards in much the manner. Why would you want to dive downwards if you're trying to get to the top? Because that’s how you stab enemies and break open power-up blocks, of course.
The snag is, each jump except those that begin on solid tissue and every single aggressive downward dive costs you stamina, shown in that big red bar at the top of the screen, and you lose a fat chunk of this each time you collide with an enemy, too. Run out of stamina and that's it- it's over. You die and your human lives on to procreate disgustingly and make copies of himself.
To make sure this doesn't happen, you get stamina back by swimming through little red blood cell looking things, but there aren’t enough of these. No, not nearly enough. So you have to play it safe. You have to be a coy little virus and let those enemies live, and carefully leap from platform to fleshy platform. But what do I know? You can also play riskily- nipping and soaring upwards through the level, knowing there’ll be a fat cache of blood cells down the line.
Except this “knowing” will only ever be a gut feeling, because Viriax’s levels are - wait for it - randomised!
Look! Here's me holed up in some sucker's lung, facing a horrible obstacle course of bubbles and air vents without the stamina to make it all the way even if there weren't any enemies. I got cocky, basically, and doomed myself.
One excellent part of Viriax is that when you fluff your delicate navigation of antibodies, collide with something and take damage, the immediate temptation is to just hammer jump and get out of there while you're still in the invulnerable grace period. Hell, that's what I still do. But the truth is that you need to maintain a steady tempo to get the most out of each jump. You need those fingers of yours to behave, and stick to the plan, although most of the time either they won't or you won't have a plan for them to follow and you will die, and you will swear, and you will try again.
I've successfully infected the Heart now and have come so close to infecting the Lungs that when I think about it I have trouble breathing. That's the kind of game this is. But I want to go back and try again, because I know precisely what has to be done, and I know the patterns for the bosses, and there's no way I'll fail again, surely?
This is a great game, and I can't wait to hear you guys lamenting the difficulty of the stomach, the brain, or even the final showdown with the nanotech factory that's secreting all those really nasty metal enemies across the levels. Go! Go! Download! Show Locomalito you care, even if it's just about the pretend box art he's mocked up and the manual. Then get right down to the important business of dying and swearing.