I love sprawling multi-million dollar platformers as much as the next guy, but I’ll take a small indie-developed project over the Super Mario Galaxies of the world any day. It boils down to execution, really. The good indie devs distill their games and bring to the fore one single, sometimes miraculous mechanic. Then, our underfunded heroes iterate and eventually offer us good games that lack the big budget fluff or unrealized stuff that sometimes worms its way into huge projects.
Yeah, yeah, you heard this all before. Welcome to mobile, Brad, you say. We see this all the time, you say. And to that I reply: hey, have you played They Need To Be Fed [.99 / HD] yet? Because even though it has problems, it could be the poster child for what we’re talking about here. It’s a no frills platformer with near perfect execution on a simple and entertaining mechanic. Oh, and it’s made by a single guy -- that’s, like, eight billion less people than the core Ratchet & Clank teams!
Provided you don’t already know about TNTBF, let’s talk about what it has to offer. It’s a 2D, physics-based platformer with hardly any plot to speak of and an art style that would melt any HAL Laboratories employee’s heart. But despite it being filled with so much color and life, it’s got a grim undertone. In TNTBF, you play as a silhouetted avatar with an endearingly misshapen head across a variety of levels in which the point is to die. Specifically, the end goal is always a squiggly monster’s gullet.
No worries. The sacred gameplay loop -- progress, fail, and die -- is still in effect, though in a more tortured way than normal. In TNTBF, it’s more like progress, fail, die... and then die again.
Fun stuff, sure, but the core mechanic is easily the most compelling thing in TNTBF. To move around and meet your doom as demanded, you’ll need to get good at moving around platforms. Each level is littered with various geometric objects, all of which the daring silhouette clings to via 360- degree gravity. So, when he jumps to, say, another platform, the game negotiates that platform’s gravitational pull versus the platform he just left. If the silhouette is closer to the latter, it'll cling to that one. Progress!
Momentum factors in as well. The faster your avatar moves, the more he’ll be able to bounce out of a platform’s pull. This leads to some interesting platforming, made all the more interested -- and dangerous -- when the game starts throwing in rotating platforms laced with spikes, exploding balls, cannons that shoot bullets at last known positions, and more.
And, yeah, it’s a breeze to shake bullets and jump around with the on-screen controls, but the jumping itself is a hair too floaty for me. Overall, TNTBF is flat-out missing a layer of accuracy that’s seems warranted for some of the more nontraditional platforming sections. Also, some of the levels expect way too much in terms of object avoidance, which kinda complicates this admittedly minor, yet annoying problem.
The good news is that this isn’t a punitive joint. Levels have smart checkpoints and accidental deaths are infinite. You’ll just get slapped on the wrist with a restart for your buffoonery or complications with the level design.
They Need To Be Fed is indeed, a smart, simple, and endearing platformer. The core mechanic might sound a little abstract, but don’t let that get in your way. In fact, just play it for free on the PC first. You see, this game used to be just a web-based project before publisher YoYo Games decided to bring it to iOS. Both versions of the game are a ton of fun, and it really comes down to whether you value portability or the ability to play it with your keyboard.
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