[Game: Super Meat Boy Forever, Team Meat, 2020]
Bandage Man:

In Defense of Super Meat Boy Forever, the Unjustly Hated Sequel to an Indie Platforming Legend

 

Introduction:

Super Meat Boy is one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, and it is rightly renowned for having some of the best level design in the entire genre. Its follow-up is an auto-runner with randomized levels, sporting both a genre and a limited control scheme that seem targeted toward mobile gaming. The original creator of the title character, Edmund McMillen, who acted as artist and codesigner on SMB, was completely uninvolved in the development of the newer game. The musician Danny Baranowsky, who provided the iconic original soundtrack for Super Meat Boy, was also absent from the development of the new title due to parting ways with Team Meat after some kind of dispute in the intervening years. And for the first year that it was available, the new title was distributed on PC solely through a controversial platform: the exclusivity-favoring, light-on-features Epic Games Store.

These facts about Super Meat Boy Forever are by now well-established reasons that many players have bounced off of, negatively reviewed, or (more commonly) simply avoided the game. And seeing as I am a big fan of Super Meat Boy, and not in general a fan of most mobile games, you may suspect that I would agree with those unhappy and dismissive appraisals.

But get this: I don’t.

Continue reading

[Game: Super Meat Boy Forever, Team Meat, 2020]
Bandage Man:

In Defense of Super Meat Boy Forever, the Unjustly Hated Sequel to an Indie Platforming Legend

was last modified: June 8th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Flywrench, Messhof, 2015]
Color-coded Careening:

On the Ingenious Design of Messhof’s High-speed Pared-down Platformer Flywrench

 

Introduction:

Mark Essen, under the pseudonym and eventual team name Messhof, rose to prominence as an indie developer through the breakout success of his simplistic multiplayer swordfighting game Nidhogg in 2014. But within the burgeoning indie scene of the late 2000s and early 2010s, he had already been known as the developer of, among other things, a free 2007 release called Flywrench. Evidence of this indie community fame can be found in the 2010 game Super Meat Boy, which includes the ship from Flywrench as a playable character. By that reasoning, Flywrench should be at least as well-known as BIT.TRIP RUNNER.

But it would be another five years before Messhof would put the finishing touches on the full and final release version of Flywrench, which became available in 2015. This is a somewhat unfortunate fact, as by 2015 the indie scene had grown massively (not least of all with platformers). And so the game launched to relatively few sales and relatively little fanfare. Thus, one of the early notable titles of indie platforming, which with slightly faster development could have been remembered alongside Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, Limbo, Fez, Braid, Spelunky, and Cave Story as one of the forerunners of the explosion in indie games in general and indie platformers in particular, has in its final form been more-or-less lost within that very explosion.

In this article, I hope to help fix the timeline—by highlighting how Flywrench remains today, even among the countless competing options now available, a truly original, unique, and enjoyable game.

Continue reading

[Game: Flywrench, Messhof, 2015]
Color-coded Careening:

On the Ingenious Design of Messhof’s High-speed Pared-down Platformer Flywrench

was last modified: November 17th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

 

Introduction:

This essay begins with a confession, one that feels on-par with admitting that one collects rocks or baseball cards or a similarly useless class of artifacts: I like achievements. In games that I am already enjoying, I actively make an effort to get achievements provided it does not impede that preexisting enjoyment. In fact, far from being impediments, I have often found that certain types of achievements lead to goals and playstyles that enhance the experience of a game. And if nothing else, purposefully attaining 100% achievement completion for a game can be a method of paying tribute to a game of exceptional quality—or of feeling that one has reached a satisfactory conclusion in otherwise endless affairs like roguelikes, arcade-style games, or even normal linear games that one can not seem to cease replaying.

In this article, I shall be covering the three clearest ways that achievements can be used for potential gains in terms of player experience and engagement. My main example in making this argument shall be Spelunky 2, as I believe that it and its predecessor represent nearly perfect implementations of achievements across all three categories to be covered.

The garden of achievements, however, is not filled exclusively with roses. There are a great many weeds and poisonous herbs to be found growing there. Achievements are often an afterthought, tacked onto a game by weary developers at the end of long projects, and—even when implemented with intention—may nevertheless include tedious, unappealing, or even exploitative goals. Thus, in each section of this article, after presenting the possible virtues of each prominent achievement type (with reference to Spelunky 2), I will also cover the vices and corruptions to which each type is vulnerable (with accompanying examples from other titles).

Continue reading

[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

was last modified: February 10th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

 

Introduction:

For about a decade after I originally played it, Jak II was my favorite game. In the run up to its release back in 2003, I spent over a month convincing my parents (especially my violent-media-averse mother) that it would be alright for me to purchase the game, despite the fact that it would be rated ‘T for Teens’ and I would not quite yet be a teenager.

My ironclad arguments included that I had already played the T-rated games Ratchet & Clank and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4; that Jak doesn’t get access to guns until partway through the game; that the enemies in Jak II simply vanish without any blood when killed; and that I had already completed its E-rated predecessor, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Ultimately, I doubt my folks were swayed by any of those arguments. Rather, they probably relented because I was almost a teen anyway, and I had demonstrated so extensively and so annoyingly the depth of my desire to play it.

In fact, I had not simply completed Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I had one hundred percented it. And the game did not reward that effort with a chunk of additional gameplay, as had titles that I had previously one hundred percented (such as the entries in the original Spyro trilogy); instead, it simply provided a short, cryptic cutscene lightly teasing the inciting incident of Jak II. This may go some way to justifying my eagerness to play the sequel. Nevertheless, when I did finally get my hands on it, I was astonished by the quality of the game.

Jak II screenshot with piloting zoomer in slums - Naughty Dog, retrospective analysis, analogy, comparison

Continue reading

[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

was last modified: June 15th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

 

prog.1 screenshot with late-game level - Vector Arcade

Introduction:

Today I am writing about a somewhat unique take on a common indie gaming design trope: casting the player in the role of a computer program. It worked for A Virus Named Tom and it worked for Thomas Was Alone; but does it work for Vector Arcade’s new platformer prog.1?

I played through all 48 of prog.1‘s levels three times prior to writing this review (my reasons for doing so are available below as well), and I am ready to provide my assessment. The general form of my experience with the game is that I am mostly pleased with it. I enjoyed the gameplay, loved the visual design, and found the story energetic. But I also found the game light on content and had a number of minor nitpicks.

Continue reading

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski