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Hands On: Platformines

Jump, jump, jump, jump, jump for joy.

Last night I tipped back my head and cried to the world, "I want a Metroid-style game to play!" "Play the Platformines beta, then dummy," came the reply. So I did. And still am. And it's huge. Falling somewhere between Terraria and an Amiga combat-based platformer, Magiko Gaming's enormous open world of 2D jumping and shooting is already looking pretty damned fine. And you know what's better than a double-jump?

A quintuple-jump, that's what.

Or a septuble jump with the right hat.

Platformines is looking really promising. An enormous game in its beta form, the developers tell me the final version will be twelve times bigger than what's on offer here. For perspective, here's what's accessible just now:

Peer closely - you can just make out the weaving corridors in which I'm exploring. The filled in bits are where I've been, the black where I haven't. And that circular edge is the limit of the beta - you can see my next main goal cruelly just outside it. The red dot at the centre - that's the game's multi-chambered main hub, an area containing a shop, save point, safe for items, clue giver, and to its left the meta-game area we'll get to in a moment. Does that help with scale? So the full game - twelve times all this. I think what I'm trying to communicate is that it's big.

But what do you do in all its space? Jump and shoot, primarily. The entire map is fogged out at the start, all invisible to you until it's in your sphere of vision - a circle that grows or shrinks depending upon the closeness of the location - and only cleared when you pass immediately through it. As you do, the map fills in, and you find more and more to explore. Handily there are teleports all over (the brown squares in the above pic) which bring you back to the hub, from when you can teleport to any other you've previously reached. And doing their best to stop your doing such things are the games very many enemies. These range from floating eyes to men with guns, annoying bats to huge hovering brown blobs of death. And they're dispatched via your range of weapons, gathered as you go.

Your inventory is a key aspect here. The main drive for playing is getting better equipment, giving you a more realistic chance of surviving the further out you go. And they can be significant changes, too. Alongside the incrementally improving pistols, shotguns and machine guns, and the bonus-giving hats, is your energy belt. That defines how much life you have, gradually etched away through enemy encounters and long falls, but always magically restored when teleporting home. For the first big chunk of playing, I had what seemed a generous 720 points of life juice, although things were getting precarious. Through having gathered and sold enough precious metals and life-giving ores, along with spare weapons and hats, I earned enough to buy the next belt, and saw it leap to 2880. And I'm needing it, and kind of wishing for more now.

Limited space in the inventory forces you home quite regularly, although again space can be added by buying it. 35 inventory slots is doing me well, but still fills up quickly when you find a good pile of ores and metals. Metals only serve to bring you cash, but the ores serve the dual-purpose of acting like health, refilling your energy belt while you're in the field. You're left weighing up trying to hold on until the next teleport, or losing a chunk of cash and topping up.

But most of all, what I most of all want to celebrate about this, is the jumping. Anyone with half an ounce of sense knows that double-jumps always improve games by at least 14%. It's incredible how that seems to keep going up the more jumps you add. With five as a starting point, it means you can scale big heights while exploring, and evade enemies with lots of little hops. But it also introduces a whole new aspect of how you play when you bear in mind how vulnerable you are to falling. Jumping up five times is all well and good, but it means you've five times further to fall. In fact, it makes sense to only ever jump four times, and save the fifth for just before you land, cushioning the fall. When you've a hat on that brings that up to seven jumps, good luck keeping count.

It also adds the lovely effect of making things feel rather more balletic. It's an odd word to use for a 2D sprite-based platformer, but it feels like the right one. As you jump, able to bounce in mid-air so many times, it means you can perform some really satisfactorily graceful manoeuvres. Jumping to pass through a block of ore, thus flinging out its bits and pieces, then staying in the air as you leap around to catch them all - well, it's just plain good. The same is true when jumping over the heads of a few enemies at once, firing your shotgun downward from above, then jumping up again before the next shot. Coming in direct contact with enemies rapidly drains your energy, so impossibly dancing just above their heads as you blast them is infinitely cool.

My main concern is the lack of variety. While the limited space of the beta may well only be showing the very first few ideas the game has, it also doesn't hint at what might be to come. It's great fun figuring out routes to the next goodie-filled chest, or clearing out enemies and avoiding lethal obstacles in an especially tricky zone, but with twelve times more of it I'll certainly want some variety. I've no idea if that's going to be there. However, there's also that meta-game thing to provide ample distraction.

The main goals of the game are to collect block guns - tools that allow you to build or destroy blocks. But stop, no, don't worry - it's not about to turn into a Terraria clone. Nothing like that. These guns are used for rebuilding a spaceship that exists next to your home hub. At the start it's mostly a pattern on the wall, a sort of build-by-numbers guide to what you need. 12 different block types, created by the twelve different block guns you need to gather, but only possible to be placed immediately adjacent to an already existing block or the ground. And with the twelve types elaborately interwoven, just figuring out how the hell you're going to fill it in is the key point here. It's an enormous puzzle - one you can begin solving from early on, but impossible to complete until you've mastered the main game. A damned smart idea.

It's already looking remarkably solid. Unfortunately just now the beta version doesn't allow you to change its window's resolution, meaning that on my ridiculously oversized 27" monitor the game window is a touch small. It's certainly possible to play, but I'm also very aware how much I wish I could boost the resolution and see things a lot more clearly. The other gripe I have at this stage is a wish that clearing the fog didn't require my immediately passing through it. If the sphere of vision around me cleared things, it would not only make a lot more sense as a device, but also feel a lot less fiddly.

You can, and you really should, check out the beta for yourself. It's freely available via developer Magiko Gaming's website. (It's also on Greenlight, although there's no good reason why it should be - Valve should do their jobs and snap this one up straight away.) Take a look:

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