Category Archives: Platformer

REVIEW: Pillar

Let me preface this review by saying that I like Michael Hicks as a developer. He does not settle for predictable ideas, nor does he compromise on his original vision. He’s one of the guys behind XBLIG’s last Uprising, even taking part with his interesting (yet ultimately unsatisfying) Sententia. He cites Jonathan Blow as an influence (easy enough to tell in his own projects, really), which is certainly okay in my book. Video Games as a medium need more people willing to take a chance and tell a story that not everyone will get at first glance. That said, his latest, Pillar1 ($4.99) is yet another interesting project that’s lacking… well, much enjoyment.

Not that ‘enjoyment’ has to be everything in a game, but it plays a large part. There’s more to Pillar than what’s on the surface, but Pillar is a puzzle game, first and foremost. Well, a collection of minigames, I suppose. Its puzzles and its gameplay revolve around the idea of human personalities, its six characters built on traits like Giving, Enduring, Distant, Capable, etc.. There’s no dialog in the game, no written story of any kind, but there are connections and conclusions to be made. There’s plenty more to be said (and, more specifically, seen) about introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. Also the titular ‘Pillar’ itself, a supposed source of great knowledge that these characters are after.

The game takes that task and its cast seriously, letting you pick and choose freely between said personalities, even going so far as to ask you who you are, and where you are, in the game world when you continue. Each character is given an initial setup, letting you read into their personality type. One character spends all her time praying in Church, say, while another takes part in the rat race of Capitalism. One might avoid human interaction, while another seeks it out. Eventually, the game draws two of these personalities together, in order to solve a series of increasingly-difficult puzzle sequences.

Those puzzles vary in form and style. Distant / Focused uses a stealth mechanic of sorts, avoiding detection and using ‘voice’ as a distraction to lure guards (just normal people) and / or to unlock doors. Enduring / Renewing has you collecting orbs and opening life-depleting gates, while avoiding personal contact. Giving / Capable presents the most involving puzzles of the bunch, which sees you constructing and lighting various numbered lamps, using pressure plates in specific order. Regardless of character pairing, you can bypass most of the puzzles completely by ‘losing’ (which isn’t a bad idea2), but you’ll only be cheating yourself, not to mention missing out on the puzzle pieces that comprise the characters’ ‘notes’3.

Pillar - Screen2

The ‘lamps’ puzzles are easily the best part about the game.

Unfortunately, Pillar falls in love with its puzzles whether you do or not, throwing room after room at you in succession. Some ideas work better than others in longform, but the game would have been better-served to hand them out in moderation, rather than stretching its mechanics out to pad the puzzle count or drive the point home. Of course, you can always take a break or switch personalities, and then come back to a previous part, but the puzzles can play and feel like an extended slog anyway, in sharp contrast to the game’s quieter, contemplative moments. It seems bizarre to say this, but Pillar is a puzzle game that might be better off without its puzzles.

Much like Sententia, Pillar is a lovely idea that suffers some in its transition to videogame form. It tries to say important things about Life and about Us— and does, to an extent— but it ultimately feels flat-footed and outright dull in certain spots. No doubt the developer poured his heart into it, and he’s to be commended for it, but despite that care and lofty ambition, the end result is just not very fun or balanced. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play Pillar. Just consider it more as a piece of self-explorative art, rather than a videogame you’d play for entertainment.


  1. Pillar marks the first XBLIG I’m reviewing that I didn’t actually buy on my Xbox 360. The game is also available on the PS4 (at a higher price), which is the platform I played it on. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Supporting indie games on all platforms? Probably. 
  2. You totally should ‘lose’ on occasion, as some of the sequences that occur after you fail are worth a look, and give you even more insight into a character / personality. 
  3. Nothing groundbreaking, but completed puzzles (a la Braid) do offer some enlightenment (and trophies in the PS4 version). 
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REVIEW: Croc’s World 2

Despite some crisp, cheery visuals and a lovable croc mascot with a football helmet, I didn’t like the original Croc’s World. Most of that had to do with the fact that it was almost a straight Mario clone, with no interesting bits or unique mechanics to define itself as anything other. Now Sprakelsoft has unleashed Croc’s World 2 ($1.00) upon the unsuspecting mobile and XBLIG masses, and… nothing much has changed for the sequel. It’s still an unapologetic Mario clone.

Croc's World 2 - Screen

In a valiant attempt to cover for that, Croc’s World 2 has effectively ‘doubled-down’ on the content for this follow-up. While the original had a pair of world themes covering 30 stages, the sequel has four(!) unique stage themes, spread across 60(!) levels. It’s that classic sequel trick, using the fuzzy math of ‘more = better’. Tempting to consider, but the platforming remains as nonchalant and formulaic as ever.

Croc’s moveset is simple enough to master; he runs, he jumps, he collects diamonds in batches of a hundred in order to gain a 1-up. His ‘football helmet’ powerup mirrors Mario‘s ‘mushroom’, allowing you to bash bricks above your head and take one extra hit from enemies before dying. You can collect a second item, a bag of rocks (see Mario‘s ‘fire flower’) to toss stones at aerial foes or attack ground opponents from a safer distance. In a new twist, you can pick up an additional bag to turn your stones into ‘homing’ rocks, seeking out targets and simplifying the combat even more.

That over-simplification is a natural byproduct of being a port of a mobile game (just as the original was), yet the ease at which you can complete stages once again throws out any semblance of challenge for someone over the age of five. I consistently ran through most scenes at top speed, navigating the basic obstacles (think spikes, disappearing bricks, or fire hazards1) and taking down end-level bosses without a care. With plentiful checkpoints and unlimited continues considered, there’s really no way anyone can lose.

Croc's World 2 - Screen2

Once again, the only real challenge to be found is to figure out the bizarre reasoning behind your stomp attacks, and what can hurt you; bees and crabs are fair game to be bopped, while porcupines are strictly on the do-not-touch list. Even the boss fights, while appreciated, fall into the familiar rut of ‘platforming 101’— stomp them, wait for them to exit their ‘stunned’ animation, then repeat.

Inspiration in any creative design can be a very good thing— when it’s used as a model to advance your own ideas. Croc’s World 2 borrows too much from Croc’s World, which in turn borrows way too much from Super Mario Bros. Thus, there’s no reason to invest in this artificially-inflated sequel, unless you like generic platformers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; why play a dumbed-down knockoff when you can just play the stellar original game it’s based on?


  1. Another new powerup makes you invulnerable to fire at certain points, which, you guessed it— makes things even easier

REVIEW: Magnet Man

Not to be confused with the Mega Man 3 boss by the same name, Magnet Man ($1.00) is yet another game by developer Chris Antoni1, a simple platformer using the power of magnets to fuel its type of predictable (yet occasionally smart) puzzle-solving. The idea isn’t exactly novel on its own— magnetized platformers being rather common— but when done right (on XBLIG, the excellent Magnetic By Nature comes to mind), it can attract2 an audience.

Magnet Man - Screen

Like MbN before it, this one’s similarly a platformer, albeit one starring a shirtless gladiator(?). I think. And yes, he has a magnet surgically-implanted on his arm, which he (of course!) uses to attach to and repel from the changing polarity of magnets that he can control (via switches). Or maybe he’s just carrying a magnet. It’s hard to tell, and doesn’t really have any effect on the game at all. There is no story or text of any kind, no motivation or impetus, just the ‘Job well done, sir!’ of setting a high score.

Save for the later levels, where some tiny penguin-like enemies show up (one hit equals death, so you simply avoid them), it’s just you and the magnet cannon. And a bunch of same-y looking stage designs between you and each exit. Your cannon is versatile, allowing you to attach yourself to ceilings or pull yourself straight across the length of the level, provided you are ‘lined up’ with said magnets, and on level ground. While that’s not exactly a twist on the formula, Magnet Man‘s insistence on those conditions does create some clever traversal puzzles and the occasional ‘how do I get there?’ moments.

Magnet Man - Screen2

This generally requires you to swap polarities, time your moves to disappearing bricks, or push a ‘boulder’ (sort of looks like a Transformers‘ head) with your cannon in order to create stairs or safe havens from spike pits. Expect to make a few mistakes, but the level of difficulty’ rests more on your patience than actual challenge; you have a limited amount of lives, but given that you can save at each new level, you’re never in any danger of losing your place.

That said, starting from the title and all the way to the graphics, Magnet Man is not very interesting. The gameplay is decent, but it’s all visually and tonally bland, lacks any sort of personality (sorry, Magnet Gladiator), and feels rough around the edges. With a little more time in the developmental oven it might fare better, but with far better (and far more inviting) magnetic platformers out there, there’s no real reason to invest your time here.


  1. I should really just change the name of this site to ‘theANTONI’, seeing as how I’ve been strictly reviewing games by him. It seems that way, certainly. 
  2. Only bad ‘magnet’ pun I’ll do, I swear. And I stick to my promises…. okay, fine. Just those two. 

REVIEW: Border Dash

Is it racist? When it comes to XBLIGs, sadly, it’s a question I have to ask myself frequently enough. Reasons aplenty. Could be the lack of an authoritative body, or maybe the community itself. Most times, I write it off to cultural differences, or vocabulary issues where English is not a developer’s first language. Less forgivable are the native speakers that do drag out archaic stereotypes for laughs (that often aren’t funny, just awkward), but even then I would resist from calling it outright racism. That is, until I played Border Dash1($1.00).

Border Dash - Screen

I’m hardly a bleeding-heart liberal, or someone that’s going to instigate a Twitter campaign to decry something minor, but with Border Dash, really, the game does it to itself. Taking control of the unfortunate Chuy, Border Dash is an ‘endless runner’ (of sorts) that has you avoiding Immigration agents and the DEA on the way to crossing the border back into the United States. Each stage even ends with you wading through a river and coming out on the other side. The idea isn’t overtly bad or objectionable just yet, but I’m not done.

To fight off his pursuers, Chuy gathers items via bricks (think Mario, like the developer’s last game, complete with reused assets) that he can toss to slow them down / defeat. These items include flip flops, roasted corn, tequila bombs, and money (for bribes). Oh, and by picking up tacos, Chuy can call on the special powers of a witch or a chupacabra. Basically, this amounts to every stereotype imaginable being put into play. The topper? If you lose all your health and are caught, you can buy your way out with a fake green card. So you see, all kinds of subtlety here, classy up and down the board.

Border Dash - Screen2

The sloppy, simplistic gameplay that supports it isn’t any better. You can only attack enemies behind you, leaving yourself open to agents that come from the front, with no real way to avoid them (bizarrely, your jumps will land you directly on top of them, taking damage). The game also suffers from crippling slowdown from the second level (or ‘attempt’, as the game calls it) on, dropping the framerate down to a ridiculous crawl at some points.

So, Border Dash. Is it racist? Even by stretching the boundaries of good taste, and having a selective memory about the rest… probably. That may or may not bother you, but that’s a judgement call you’ll have to make for yourself. The good news— or easier news— in all of this, is that the game is terrible all on its own. No choosing sides in politics, no collective moral voting or decency mobs required, as I can’t picture anyone wanting to give this game more than a minute of their time.


  1. Not as bad as Custer humping Indians, maybe, but certainly not in the realm of good taste. 

REVIEW: Super MechaMan

Your natural inclination is to read Super MechaMan ($1.00) like ‘Mega Man’, thus assuming you’re getting yourself into some kind of very colorful and kiddish Mega Man-inspired platformer. That wouldn’t be wrong of you to assume, either, especially when some of the screenshots show off a character in a blue, mechanized suit, firing off blaster shots at snails1. Yet, you’d be wrong.

Super MechaMan - Screen

Broken down into its ‘no bullshit’ purest form, Super MechaMan is nothing more than Mario with a Mech suit. Furthermore, once you have that Mech suit (via a powerup doled out like mushrooms), you really need to do almost nothing else to win the game. But that comes later. The game starts off with a kidnaping kidnapping, as most of these things usually do. Bad guy takes your chick for no apparent reason, you take offense to it, and storm off after him, an army of foot soldiers and themed worlds between you and the inevitable climactic fight. Surprise, Super MechaMan takes no risks with the formula.

Gameplay is similarly lifted from its inspiration; you move from left to right to reach the exit, can stomp enemies on their head, and you bop bricks to acquire coins (a hundred earns you an extra live, natch). Super MechaMan comprises a total of ten levels, split between four world ‘types’, including a luscious greenscape (so nice we gotta use it twice!), a moonlit ice level, etc, each with their own enemy re-skins and soundtrack. The music is actually quite good, which counteracts the otherwise basic platforming and combat ‘rinse and repeat’ stuff.

Super MechaMan - Screen2

A simple boss fight concludes each world, but none of them will tax your skills. Particularly if you have the Mech suit. Sans suit, one touch kills you, but getting hit while in the suit merely demotes you back to human form. Which kind of stinks, actually, considering you’re basically a God when in Mech form. The ‘arm cannon’ makes all enemy / boss encounters a breeze. Sure, it takes more shots to maim a critter than the old ‘jump on the head’ routine, but it saves you from having to get up close and personal, eliminating any and all challenge the game might have presented.

You’re not missing much anyway, unless you enjoy really generic platformers2 you can complete in a half hour. Like Croc’s World before it, the whole thing seems ready-made for phones, the ‘copy and paste’ stuff that chokes off originality and just clogs up the marketplace out of spite. The colorful worlds are nice, but the lack of difficulty makes Super MechaMan ‘a curious glance’ at best, with ‘a skippable bore’ being the more likely outcome.


  1. Which, for the record, seems a little ridiculous. Snails? Really? I’m not telling anybody how to make their game, but ‘snails’ are not what I think of when I hear ‘threatening foot soldier’. What’s the worst they could do? Chase me really slowly, leaving a slimy trail behind? Oh, great, a mess I have to clean up? I’m shaking in my little Mech suit. 
  2. You shouldn’t. Please say you don’t.