Here’s a puzzle: why are there so many puzzle games on Steam? It’s because they’re easy to make and do reasonably well with critics and customers. They can also be sold off at a bargain-basement price in the hopes of recouping some money, which means for a first-timer or a seasoned publisher, they’re a reasonably safe bet for digital distribution. Now that you’ve solved that one, here’s something harder: what will Archibald’s Adventures, an offering from developer Rake in Grass, yet another attempt at a puzzle game on Steam, have to do to stand out amongst the riff-raff of puzzles games already out there? Let’s try and work it out.
The game begins with strong intent on making an impression on the player: as soon as you load Archibald’s Adventures up, you’re treated to the introductory sequence which is drawn out in comic-book style with delightfully bright colours and pleasantly chunky drawings, with kids that have strange shapes for heads. It’s gorgeous and really helps to set a light-hearted and fun tone for the game ahead. Our main character, Archibald, is playing with his friends on the street – all three of them enjoy skateboarding and are arguing who can get the highest air off a ramp. Archibald, in the brave stupidity that has come to be a trademark for all protagonists since time immemorial, proclaims that he can jump a massive ramp at the town’s junkyard. He succeeds, but he’s flung into the estate and lower basements of Professor Klumpfus, the local Doc Brown figure, who has been conducting experiments deep underground. With his scientific abominations coming to life, Archibald must escape the doldrums of Klumpfus’ laboratory; thus, the premise is set, which works perfectly; it’s a tongue-in-cheek adventure that possesses mild peril but prides fun above all, which should appeal to nearly everyone.
When the game truly begins, we begin to learn more of the gameplay: Archibald’s Adventures is an action-puzzle game, which basically amounts to the idea that we’ll have to attempt platforming. Gameplay is broken up into “rooms” – Archibald is placed at one side of a room, and the exit door to the next level is at the next side. The solution to beating a level usually comes in two parts: figuring out the solution by moving crates to allow Archibald to climb, then completing the jumps required to progress. As such, this game provides a dual challenge in that your mind and hands are both tested in equal measure, which initially gives the game a rounder appeal, and because levels take two efforts instead of one, beating them feels like a greater accomplishment, making the game that much more enjoyable.
However, it is not just Archibald you’ll be relying on: you can use the professor’s invention, pink ectoplasm (which manifests as a bubble) to fly around the stage, access areas you can’t, and pick up boxes. Having the extra ability to navigate the stage like this adds yet more depth to gameplay, especially considering that this pink bubble is penetrable to obstacles, meaning dexterity is key.
Within the levels, a decent level of diversity has been added to keep players entertained, which is a good job, as the game possesses around 200, which will keep you busy for a good number of hours, meaning you’ll certainly get your money’s worth from the game. On offer are three different types of levels, which all, pleasingly, bring different things to the table.
The first variety has you control Archibald on his skateboard. This type is perhaps the most platforming heavy and is heavily reliant on boxes: Archibald, being a small child, can only climb one “square” at a time – the game being mapped to a grid where all boxes in the game are placed precisely – so crates have to be moved around in order to get to higher planes. These can be placed into ad-hoc staircases or to form platforms which allow you to progress. The other key feature Archibald has is that when he has enough of a run-up on his skateboard (three squares on the grid), he can attempt a jump to another plane, but this jump must be planned carefully, or you’ll be headed to certain death. The “Archibald” levels are terrific and a great tech demo for what the game is capable of, particularly its ferocious difficulty at parts which only keeps you coming back for more. The rules that using Archibald imposes leads to ingenious level design and some extremely clever solutions that suggest that the developers truly cared about making this game. The only real deficit – and it’s not a flaw of the puzzles, which are the true meat of the game – is that the controls for Archibald can be extremely stiff, making it all too easy to careen off an edge into the welcoming maw of an enemy beast. Other than this; if you practise care with the controls – something that you shouldn’t have to in the first place – the Archibald levels are a real treat.
However, this is sadly where the treat ends, as while this third of the game is superb, the other two thirds pale in comparison. With some progress, you will unlock the rolling pod levels, which differ from Archibald in that you can stick to metal surfaces and navigate the walls like Spider-man. While this is a novel and amusing concept, some of the levels in this section have some incredibly poor design where the metallic surfaces needed to progress seem to have just vanished, making completion of a level impossible – playing this game becomes a lot more frustrating than it should have initially been, despite starting life as a bright and engaging concept. The final strand of gameplay are the Klumpfus levels, which see the professor using a jetpack. Here, you must navigate levels, avoiding acid drips, enemy monsters, and spikes. This one relies less on the brain and more on dexterity, and while there’s nothing wrong with this – it’s certainly serviceable and the least broken – there’s no joy to it. It’s incredibly dull, as the jetpack has similar mechanics to the pink bubble, but lacks any of the weight, as the jetpack will hang in space if no input is pressed, as opposed to the bubble succumbing to gravity. These levels are fine, but are sterile, uninteresting, and will have you wishing for the return of good old Archibald and his skateboard.
This is particularly frustrating, as if the game had just been Archibald, the total package would have been better, unadulterated by lesser elements, although one can easily tell the developers were mindful of game length and were looking to pad the title out somewhat. If they were to ever make a sequel, starting with just Archibald is the right way to begin as he is the heart of the game in more than one sense.
Yet perhaps more disappointing is the game’s flaccid and uninspiring design. The game’s buoyant and interesting intro later gets replaced with a generic tileset that looks like it was taken directly from Marc Overmars’ GameMaker software. Not that using premade assets is an inherently bad thing, but these look bland and blatantly ripped off. Music also suffers a disappointing fate; merely existing in the background instead of ever coming into its own. A few of its riffs sound vaguely inspired by the likes of Jamiroquai, but none of the tracks ever achieve a similar level of aural quality. Ultimately, Archibald’s Adventures embarrasses itself with a subpar commitment to design.
Steam is a mixed bag of games, and the great majority of these titles can themselves be described as “mixed bags”. Disappointingly, Archibald’s Adventures does not escape this reputation. It has some absolutely stellar moments that could be translated into a fantastic game but is otherwise let down by extraneous gameplay elements that shouldn’t exist, and poor graphics. That’s not to say there’s no joy to be had here, but it sadly gets lost under too many elements that spoil the adventure.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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