Starting with the second or third stage in, Face-Plant Adventures (80 MSP) makes a choice about its gameplay. It alternates between the two extremes from then on, and where you’ll stand on it determines whether you enjoy games like this or curse the day that punishers became a genre of their own, mined regularly by indie developers.
A platformer by trade, each level has a set beginning and end. You collect clocks that bring down your level completion time, which net you medals and add your total to an online leaderboard. There’s even Awardments to earn, for the fake achievement crowd. There is no combat, save for an odd final encounter in the last level. The initial batch of stages are sprawling. Backtracking is present but kept to a minimum, hitting switches to open up the various routes in a level. That can lead to some confusion, determining whether you’ve unlocked a new path or access to a gold maple leaf (the game’s other big collectible, really only for completionists), but for the most part, you’re never lost on where to go. So far so good.
I mentioned in the preview for the game that I was hoping it’d stick to platforming and stay well clear of becoming a ‘punishformer’, but no such luck. Face-Plant Adventures flirts with being a casual title, setting up small-scale trouble for you to jump, slide, swim, or fly over and around, then immediately bumps up the level of spikes and acid traps to obnoxious heights, sabotaging any goodwill it had earned up to that point.
The controls are largely decent. There are instances you’ll feel you were cheated, being too weighty or sluggish, but you do what you intend most of the time. That’s not the issue. The problem is speed and the lack thereof, and the pace at which the game would like you to react. In simple terms, it wants to be a punishformer, using friendly platforming mechanics. Even at Florence’s (the plantagonist you play as) top speed, usually when grinding a rail, the game fails to create the excitement and twitch-gameplay that a punishformer insists on and lives by.
It feels like your typical mascot-fueled romp with collectibles in indie form, tweaked (for the worse) to institute death after death at the hands of numerous hazards. Even with the aforementioned moves at your disposal, you never really feel empowered or all that capable of navigating a stage error-free. You’re a plant, but you play and react like a gelatinous blob. How suited to this style can Florence be when any jump above five feet slows you down, landing with a literal dull splat that aptly describes the experience of playing the game?
To be fair, there’s a market for repetitious death that I’m occasionally all for. Face-Plant Adventures straddles the line, unsure which side of the fence it wants to come down on. When it finally does, it has neither the speed or charm to pull it off. It would have been more serviceable had it played strictly to its platforming strengths and tossed out the hardcore bits and sections. It undermines what would have been a decent (if forgettable) game otherwise. Needs less trouble, more fun.