I really like puzzle games and I really hate zombie games but when done correctly, I tend to enjoy puzzle games that have zombies in them. I guess it’s appropriate to categorize Retsnom that way, but no in all reality this isn’t a zombie game. This year old stage based puzzle game was recently (5/24/2016) ported to PS4. Before the port I had never actually heard of it. This is the second game released by the one man developer, SOMI Inc. and for a one man team it’s not horrible. Definitely not the greatest thing I’ve ever seen by a one man team, but certainly not the worst.
On a graphics level, Retsnom is admittedly disappointing. It’s being called retro, but today that’s a fancy way of saying flat, pixelated, and low-budget. Again, it’s a one man team and there are actually some good things about the graphics. It’s very minimalist with just the bare essentials in each level. Basic recurring background patters and simple looking blocks mostly. Each of the five worlds has its own color scheme. But you also have a number of decent looking objects such as desks, guns, and pink rabbit dolls. The playable character is pretty detailed even in his pixelated form. He has a number of defining features such as a tie. His walking and climbing animations aren’t too bad either. The zombies are just brown husks with darker splotches to represent hair on the top. They don’t look great. But their blood splatters upon death look really good. Not realistic but quite good.
The main element of the gameplay is the ability to switch the layout of the level at the touch of a button. The blocks used to make up the levels can be flipped in a direction (vertical or horizontal) in order to move about each puzzle. These animations are pretty smooth for the most part except when you are in the air. You have the ability to switch the blocks within a limited proximity whenever you want, even when in the air and falling. The problem is that as you’re falling the proximity moves and sometimes the game has a short moment of lag when trying to process this mid-air movement. The indicator lights for the proximity of block movement and what will actually move are simple but done in a very effective way. There is really no HUD during gameplay, but at the end of each level you get a very straight forward and kind of ugly stat bar. The text is just bad. It’s very pixelated and thin, making it hard to read depending on the colors of the text and background at any given moment. The text color changes throughout the game, sometimes appearing in white, black, or blue among other colors. Overall the graphics are nothing special, but they don’t hurt the gameplay in any way.
The gameplay runs pretty well. This is a simple platformer with a few additional abilities. You move with the left stick and jump with X. Buttons are not mappable. Once you find the gun, about 6 levels in, you can shoot an unlimited amount from a stationary position. The gun is very effective against zombies but you can’t move or change direction while shooting and it has a limited range. On the upside, multiple zombies can’t get to you while shooting at them when coming from the same direction. As long as you are shooting and they are in range, all zombies will die. As mentioned before, you can alter the layout of the levels a piece at a time. You must use this mechanic to open pathways to your goal. The power to rearrange levels is nice, but limited in many respects. You can only move blocks within a limited range to yourself and you can only move them in one direction depending on the rules of that specific world. You also have limits on when you can take blocks out of the range of their starting position. Sometimes you must do this to create pathways across gaps. Other times you want to do this and the game won’t let you. There are definite rules to the physics of this world, but they aren’t clearly defined to the player, set in stone, or easy to figure out 100% of the time. The jumping is great in Retsnom. You have a very good height and range. But you can’t take advantage of it from a ladder. When climbing you can only jump outward and down. As with all platformers, aiming your fall is more important than aiming your jump much of the time.
You goal is to clear each world by completing levels. The levels in each world can be done in whatever order you like as long as you do the first level first and the last level last because these stages are plot contingent. You can pause and go to the level select screen any time you want. You don’t have to complete every level in every world to progress forward. Each final door has a minimum number of levels that must be completed to progress to the next world. You can return to older worlds and levels whenever you want. You complete each level by finding the exit. To do so you must find and unlock the door. The door requires you to locate two pieces and a key which must then be placed in the door frame. Objects can be hidden behind blocks as can the door frame, but even when they aren’t getting to them can be quite tricky. You have to figure out the right combination of stage alterations to complete your objectives. There is more than one way to accomplish this most of the time, but it gets harder as you progress through each of the 60 levels. The respawn system is pretty standard. When you die you are instantly respawned to the last checkpoint. You are not notified when you reach a checkpoint. If you never die, you will never know for sure when you’ve actually found one. It can be the ledge before a gap, a new area, or the starting spot for the stage. When you get an item and die, the item will need to be reacquired if you hadn’t reached a checkpoint before dying. You can kill yourself at any time with L1 to be instantly respawned to the nearest checkpoint.
Zombies are in the game, but they are more there for the narrative than the gameplay. When they see you, they will growl and then rush at you, but they give you plenty of time before charging to start firing your gun. They die after a few bullets. You can also kill them by crushing them with blocks you’ve moved. They add very little to the challenge of the gameplay except in a few rare spots, but are crucial to the game’s plot. I would say the gameplay is good, but at the same caliber as many similar puzzle platformers such as No Time to Explain, Rasternauts, Super Meat Boy and countless others I’ve played.
The sound is half great, half mediocre. The first thing you will notice about the sound in this game is that the music is all somber classical pieces. From the beginning you will hear very loud, very powerful classics that you’ve heard countless times before and they are great. The tone of the game is very depressing and dark, but it’s also extremely appropriate. The sound quality of the music is excellent as well. The effects on the other hand, aren’t so praiseworthy. There aren’t too many effects. Jumping, shooting, zombies growling, and zombies dying is pretty much it. There is a sound for walking but it’s way too low to even really hear over the music or without it. You have sound options to change the volume levels of the music and effects separately, but even at max the effects are just not strong enough to really affect the gameplay experience. The music, while good, isn’t original and the effects aren’t great so while you will enjoy aspects of the sound, crediting those positive aspects to SOMI Inc. seems slightly inappropriate.
The writing is probably the best part of this game. It’s a sad tale about a scientist whose daughter has been infected with the zombie virus. He has decided to travel forward in time to hopefully get the cure from the future and take it back to save his daughter. As you progress forward, the game gives you more details about what’s actually going on. What starts off as a very black and white rescue story devolves into something much different and much more somber. You are given the narrative through multiple means of text based communication. The narrator flashes messages across the screen at certain times, optional notes are left around the game, and there are some cutscenes with other people you meet along the way. Without giving away too much, I’ll say that this story addresses issues such as time travel paradoxes and the morality of putting family before everyone else. You don’t really get to make decisions in this game, but the decisions made by your character and their effect on others is an important part of the narrative. There are times where you are even confronted with different versions of yourself who are also traveling through time trying to stop you because they claim to see more of the picture than you do. The gameplay will make you curious enough to start but it’s the writing that will make you push yourself to the end.There is some replay value in this game, but it’s the standard collectibles type. There are dolls hidden throughout the levels that you can find for a trophy, but many of them are very hard to get. Each level tells you how many it has in the level select screen. There are 17 trophies in total, but most of them are for clearing the five worlds and collecting the dolls. There are 60 levels total and honestly one playthrough is enough. There is a secret ending but if it means collecting all those dolls you may just Google it and save yourself the trouble. I think the $5 price tag is ok, but technically this game doesn’t have to take you five hours. You can clear most of the levels in minutes if you know what you’re doing and can execute it properly on the first try. An hour/dollar a world isn’t bad, but I won’t tell you this game is a steal either.
Retsnom is good enough where it counts. It’s very challenging, well written, and has a good soundtrack. I definitely don’t think you will regret buying it if you don’t get stuck and quit. But it’s not the best looking game in the genre and there are several titles in this genre to choose from. If you love level based puzzlers I say give it a go, but if you aren’t big on these types of games there are certainly better ones to try first.
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