Gamers love exploring caves. From scripted spelunking in the likes of Super Metroid, to randomly generated environments like Terraria, the process of slowly moving through untouched caverns is a traditional thrill within the video game medium that never seems to get old.
Platformines is a title that attempts to fuse the ideas of the random and the scripted. Every run of Platformines takies place in a uniquely-generated labyrinth filled with key collectibles you need to grab to escape. This is then topped off with collectible gear and guns that appear, at least aesthetically, to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Borderlands titles.
It’s an admirable concept to be sure and, initially, it presents something rather compelling. The game’s artstyle and reliance on midi versions of classical music gives it an early 90’s PC vibe, while the mix of rigid platforming and shooting is simple but alluring. One note though, play with a controller – the keyboard controls are a touch tricky.
So the idea of Platformines is that you move around the maze following an objective arrow to find colour guns with which to re-build your ship to escape the mine. As you move around the mine you can grab precious minerals to sell for money, and money can be used to buy equipment such as guns and headgear (which you can also find around the mine), as well as big buffs to your pocket capacity and health (and you’ll need the health buffs for the outlying zones).
The maze is also filled with checkpoints. Hitting one of these allows you to instantly warp back to base camp to refill your health and do all the bartering and escape vessel construction.
Platformines is a game full of great ideas. For example, your health dictates the size of your field of view, giving you an incentive to keep health high and think before you leap. It’s tense to find yourself low on health, barely able to see five fingers in front of yourself, when you’ve a backpack full of precious material you wish to sell. Go back the way you came or try and reach the next checkpoint?
It’s a shame, really, that the execution is what lets Platformines down. The most glaring example is that death is pretty pointless, on the lowest difficulty anyway. Checkpoints aren’t too infrequent, and it’s super easy to retrace your steps. The game is cruel, frequently, but on your initial run this cruelty just aggravates due to the minimal punishment. Death is only a truly worrying factor on higher, unlockable difficulties.
Why? Because the combat is all too basic. Titles like Spelunky are simple, but they augment their fighting through a host of items and elements. Platformines’ combat is frightfully ridged. You have access to four weapons – pistol, shotgun, machine gun and bazooka – but they all largely serve the same purpose; shoot forward. Well, forward, up or down, there’s no twin stick or free aim here. This makes the combat feel very clunky, and it pretty much stays like this regardless of the game’s presentation evoking Borderlands.
Platforming, too, is mostly unsatisfying. From the off it’s possible to jump five times from an initial hop. One, two, three, four, five. It gives the actual jumping a loose, careless feel. It’s likely a safety net for the random level design, but it comes across as lazy and unsatisfying in play.
It’s a shame because exploring the labyrinths is nice, but then even this act is undermined by the flimsy combat design and steep “difficulty” barriers. If you rush through the maze then you will find yourself in a zone where enemies are killing you in two or three shots, which forces you to go to other places in the mine to forage for sellable materials. This would be fine if the combat and platforming were more, but they’re not.
Now, all of this isn’t to condemn Platformines as a bad game. It’s actually quite a serviceable time waster, but it’s impossible to avoid the notion that the designers’ desire to have random environments has led to undernourished gameplay. The reason a game like Metroid, or Steamworld Dig, or Symphony of the Night work is because they’re games designed around abilities and worlds working in harmony, full of interesting, key moments that genuinly reward the exploration. Progress in Platformines just gives you more clunky combat in different coloured environments.
VERDICT: Platformines isn’t a bad game, it’s just a largely unpolished one. The mechanics feel either loose or under-developed, leading to a game that’s entertaining but never spectacular or truly engaging. If you’re a Spelunky addict and need another fix then Platformines may give you a few hours of enjoyment, but those who prefer a bit more order and polish to their game design would do well to be cautious.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.
Review code provided by publisher.