Friday, August 11, 2017

Small World & Roguelight - The Friday FREE GAME Feature!

It's time for another double feature! This week we have a couple of past game jam entries - Small World and Roguelight.

Small World

Small World is an isometric puzzle platformer created for Ludum Dare 38. Your goal is to reach the red exit point of each level by traversing a collection of floating blocks. You have several tools available that allow you to push and pull most of the blocks, and you can of course jump.

This game starts out strong, but falls apart quickly due to several issues. The largest and most glaring problem is the view and perspective, particularly with floating foreground blocks. As you can't rotate the camera, entire blocks (and gaps) can be obscured from sight. While this trick has been used in games before to add difficulty, through trial and error you could at least memorize the layout and get a bit farther. By the time this becomes a "feature" in Small World, however, the levels are randomly generated each time you die, rendering your memory skills worthless.

Second is the problem of random (NOT procedural) generation of levels six and beyond. You can and will get levels that are impossible to finish - I was once dropped into a level where I could not progress from my spawn point. As frustrating as that is, imagine getting halfway through a large level only to find it's actually impossible to complete.

The movement of your character as well as the blocks can often be questionable. Sometimes pushing and pulling blocks only nudge them slightly, putting them off alignment and making them impossible to move afterward. Getting the character to face the direction you want is a struggle in itself, whether you use a keyboard or controller.

Additionally, some dirt blocks will drop out under you. While I have no complaint with the inclusion of falling blocks themselves, I don't understand why they are indistinguishable from safe blocks. I can only assume that the developer thinks that a combination of terrible controls, obscured traps and impossible levels are good ways to increase difficulty and lengthen playtime. I highly suggest they rethink everything they have learned thus far in terms of game design.

Under no circumstances can I suggest Small World to anyone. If you want to jump around on isometric blocks, you're better off checking out some of the free Q*Bert clones available online.


Roguelight is a 2D procedurally-generated platformer created for GBJam 3 and focuses on visibility. Armed with a bow that fires flaming arrows, you descend into a dungeon that gets darker the deeper you go. Your arrows serve as a weapon to dispatch enemies as well as temporary light sources. Your quiver is limited though, and you'll have to explore the dungeon to refill your supply. Things can get somewhat tense when you run out of arrows. Fumbling around in pitch black is often fatal, as enemies are silent and spike traps are strewn about.

Each run, you'll collect some amount of coins, which can be used (after your inevitable death) at the shop to permanently improve your character for future attempts. There's a variety of unlocks available - increasing coin drops, quiver size, health, arrow effectiveness and more. Exiting the shop drops you right back to the title screen, which also serves as the starting area of the dungeon. This particular design means one less button to start a new game, psychologically encouraging the player to go again.

The controls for this title are tight, but you will have to hold down your fire button for long periods (which include jumping) when using your arrow as a torch. In terms of muscle memory, it feels similar to classic Mario "sprint jumping", which most of us should be well used to by now.

Other than what feels like a really limited quiver at the very start, I have no complaints with Roguelight. It's retro-inspired look is charming and the game is surprisingly addictive, making it very easy to recommend. It has a bit of a Metroidvania feel both aesthetically and in terms of play, which is a huge plus!

Unintentional Parallels

While I didn't purposely choose these two particular titles for comparison, parallels can easily be drawn between them. Both are platformers with random generation elements, and both feature obscured traps and levels. The difference in execution however is staggering.

Roguelight's meta progress means you have something to show for your efforts each time you play. The lighting effects of your arrows can temporarily reveal hidden dangers... at a cost. Improved implementation of random generation severely limits the chance of a player being hopelessly stuck. Giving players good controls and forcing them to decide when to expend a valuable resource (arrows) places the game's challenge where it belongs... in level design. Small World does the opposite of these things, and the difference in enjoyability is like night and day.

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