Wot I Think: Snapshot
Photography-based puzzle-platformer Snapshot is the latest from depict1 dev Retro Affect (one half of which is Kyle Pulver, he of Offspring Fling fame). Long-anticipated, it finally gave itself to the world last week. Here's what I made of it.
Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely.
Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely
BASTARD BASTARD BASTARD BASTARD.
To be fair, the same hug-then-suckerpunch ethos has been true of pretty much any of the New Wave Platformers/Puzzlers (looky there, I completely invented a classification, and it doesn't really mean anything at all - games journalism!). They lure you with charm, they do clever genre-bending, spacetime-twisting things that make you feel oh so terribly clever as you appear to master them, and then suddenly BAM!
Lest this sound like complaint, that's not my point. At least I don't believe so, though I do admit that there's usually at one level where I might use a word that starts with C rather than B, where I think the balance and flow really is a bit off. But usually, it's the conquering of the total bastard and the subsequent moving on to another period of joyful apparent mastery of leftfield concepts that can make games like Snapshot so magnetic. It is rewarding me, but it also challenging me, and that drives me on.
Snapshot is a puzzle-platform game, much like one of its team's previous game, Offspring Fling. From art style down to structure and that challenge sweet-spot, it's strongly reminiscent of Kyle Pulver's last effort but bolder, smarter, dragging stranger elements into a reassuringly familiar setup and aesthetic that feels like it has existed since the dawn of gaming. (It hasn't. It just feels like it. In a good way).
A staple: you've got to get to the exit.
A staple: you have to hop across platforms, over spikes, that sort of thing.
A staple: 16 bit-esque 2D graphics, starring a consciously cute, slightly child-like character whose story and world are more implied than told.
A staple: levels divided into worlds and stages, which can be revisited at any point to pursue greater mastery of times and collectibles.
Not a staple: using the mouse to move a camera-like viewfinder around the screen, capturing certain parts of it which you can then rematerialise in other parts of it. For instance, a crate which you can use to reach higher places, or hold down a switch that you can't reach yourself. You jump around a world that you gently, and very specifically, reshape to meet your purpose. If it sounds complicated to control, it really isn't - a lifetime of movement with one hand and camera with the other meant this felt absolutely natural. It's just that the camera was that much more literal this time around, which entailed two simultaneous viewpoints to some extent.
It is elegant in concept, it is elegant in execution, and it escalates to greater complexity elegantly. Soon enough you're capturing giant snowballs in mid-motion, with their momentum as well as their existence recreated in the new spot so they carry only rolling even though they're on the other side of the level. Conceptually it could be said to be a bit like Portal, in that you use a reticule to create access to the inaccessible, but it doesn't play like it.
That's primarily because you can't capture any old thing, so this is more key-in-lock than open experimentation - you're restricted to specific objects, some of which are cunningly blocked from being snapshottable until you've solved some other part of the puzzle that removes the red glaze which imprisons them. Sometimes this is frustrating - I can see a block that could solve all my problems, but it's not one of the blocks that can be grabbed, so I'm stuck. But being able to grab that block is nowhere near as satisfying as discovering that , just around the corner, there's an elephant I can capture, and then bounce upon its curiously rubbery back to reach a new platform. Poor elephant. Poor, vital elephant.
Snapshot plays with the idea of photography too, so later puzzles might see you looking at background objects from specific angles in order that they appear to combine into a single, capturable entity. I'd best say no more in that regard - mechanical spoilers and all that. Point is that it doesn't rest on its conceptual laurels, instead finding plenty of ways to bulk up a simple, impressively intuitive concept.
Problems? Not really. I suppose, like Offspring Fling the look does leave me a little cold, but only to the point that I don't 100% connect to it, not that I dislike it in any way. If that's the developers' preferred aesthetic that's the developer's preferred aesthetic, it's just that in both look and structure (bonuses for beating best times, etc) seems to scream "I WANT TO BE A BEST-SELLING IPHONE GAME LIKE CUT THE ROPE" to me. Which is a perfectly unfair accusation, seeing as Offspring Fling hasn't made its way to iOS yet, which would seem to suggest it's not a deliberate intention after all.
I think what I like most about Snapshot, outside the apparent effortlessness with which it realises its concept, is that it's so artless. There are no delusions of grandeur here, no browbeating with cleverness or metaphor, and not even any chest-thumping about how challenging it is. It has a great concept and it wants to do great things with it. It does. In that, it feels like a game from the fondly-remembered past, rather than the actual past of wildly spiking difficulty, no save system and the inability to do anything not possible on a three-button gamepad. It's an innocent in a dirty world. It's a lovely bastard.
Snapshot is out now, costing $10/£7, with an extra %10 off for the next few hours.