Remember the old days, the days when the old 32 and 64 bit computers ruled the world? The days of only having a few colours and bloopy sound effects to render everything from Flight sims to Bubble creatures into existence?
You don’t? Too young? KIDS THESE DAYS DON’T KNOW THEY’RE LIVING!!!
Still, in the interests of helping show how the world can learn from the past, I review I AM Level, for SquareGo
Full text below the cut:
I AM Level
Ah the 8-bit age! The days of Spectrum and Commodore computers, where bedroom programmers hammered out starkly coloured platformers and shoot-em-ups with naught but their imagination and occasional psychosis for company and inspiration. It was in those days that the likes of Llamatron, Super Pipeline and Jet Set Willy made their appearance. Unashamedly difficult but compulsive titles that relied on player skill and memory, as well as wrestling with some occasionally awkward controls to succeed.
It’s this 1980s era of gaming creativity that brings us the vision behind Smiling Bag’s latest mobile platform game, I Am Level. It’s a quirky game, and unashamedly retro, with a concept that is, as the maker describes, “Jet Set Willy meets Pinball Dreams”.
It’s wonderfully realised, with more than a little bit of tongue in cheek. The opening crawl gently mocks the current indie gaming generation’s obsession with ‘meaningful introspective narrative, and from the bleepy bloop 8-bit music, and the limited colour palate, it’s a game that looks, sounds and feels enderaingly old school.
In the game, you play a large round ball, and by tilting left or right, the ball will roll across the game-screen. On each there will be a few stars to collect, and more than a few sprite-based enemies to avoid. It’s your classic retro feel, with the addition of a modern tilt system. Oh and since this has a pinball slant, each map will have a few plungers, paddles and traps, all activated by tapping the screen.
The individual game-screens all fit together in a huge grid of interconnected blocks, and you unlock them as you go. Each screen is unique, often with a theme, and a gloriously punny name, and only by collecting every star, will that screen me marked down on the map as complete. The game tracks your progress, even if you use up all your lives, so death is an impediment but not a major slowdown.
There are occasional, sometimes too occasional, checkpoints strewn around the grid as well, so you can start out in various places. Of course, it would be too easy, or too hard if you could go everywhere at once. To keep it simple, there are locked off blocks, which will open as you level up by collecting stars adding another addictive element into the mix. There are also an attractive selection of unlockable skins for the ball, should you decide you really want to wear a Tartan Kilt, or look like a Bowling Ball.
Of course it’s not quite perfect. The difficulty curve at some sections can be utterly phone-snappingly annoying at times, as some of the screens require pixel-perfect moves and timing with imprecise flipper switches. But of course this just means there’s a greater sense of satisfaction upon seeing a screen done.
A bigger crib is that it’s entirely possibly to get locked into an “endless death cycle” as the game respawns with the ball entering the screen at the same angle and speed every time you die. So if you enter a screen only to career into an enemy immediately, you’ll probably die again and again until your lives run out, and you need to sit through the lengthy map and points update pages again until you can restart. While the endless death cycle was implemented on purpose, and was common to retro titles, it may stick in the craw of many a modern gamer.