There is something inherently perverse about intentionally creating the thing that will destroy you. I don't mean that in any sort of metaphorical sense; this isn't some sort of child-destroys-the-parent thing. In Bit Ate Bit's They Need To Be Fed 2 [$1.99], you are charged with growing a monster and then crawling into its mouth to die, over and over and over again. You are responsible for pulling yourself through a hellish platform-scape, gathering the magical bean that contains your killer, planting it, and then feeding yourself to the monster that results. The game's developer Jesse Venbrux has some twisted ideas.
He also has a talent for crafting killer platformers, as shown by the original They Need to be Fed [$0.99 / Free] and now its sequel. Both have this 360 degree gravity going for them: as you leap from one platform to the next, you're pulled in by gravity, orbiting, crashing and breaking away all based on the pull of the nearest objects. It's not easier or harder than straight jumping, just different—different enough to feel fresh and to create opportunities for original level design.
Given that you die at the end of each level, you might assume that They Need to be Fed 2 is a cruel game. Aside from its inherent cruelty to its big-headed protaganist, however, it is not. It takes no time at all to get the basics of the platforming—it's floaty by nature, so it forgives the false starts you might have getting used to its gravitational pull. As importantly, it's generous with checkpoints. Checkpoints are fantastic. They're everywhere. If you grab a bean or a diamond and die, you go straight back to the nearest checkpoint, diamond or bean still in hand. This gives you the freedom to walk into certain death when you need to, which makes perfect sense: your life is cheap, but only once you've done your job and fed the monster.
This is true for the first seven worlds. When you unlock a world, you unlock all its levels. When you find enough gems in those levels (gems that are rarely difficult to find or claim), you unlock the next world. New worlds have new art and new obstacles, progressing from spikes to disappearing platforms to missiles all at once. And then you come out the other side, and you unlock Epic mode.
Epic mode turns things topsy turvy. Checkpoints are gone. Gems are hard to find. Platforms disappear ever so quickly, and it's easy to take a wrong turn and get stuck on an isolated island. Or to reach the end without the bean you need to plant the monster that will eat you. An interesting thing happens around this point in the game: feeding yourself to the monster no longer seems all that horrific. Instead, you find yourself fleeing to the safety of its mouth. If you can just reach it, your job will be fulfilled and you'll be - if not safe - secure.
Once things get this tense, the weaknesses of the game's virtual controls start to stand out. Buttons let you run clockwise or counter-clockwise, and feel natural enough when you're hopping along the tops of platforms. When you jump from bottom to side to top to bottom, recalibrating your head in time to make the next jump can be an issue. The platforms are shaking beneath your feet, the missiles are on their way, and you're not quite sure whether your next tap will take you left or right—not a good situation to find yourself in. It makes it a bit too easy to repeat meaningless deaths while you fail to reach the only meaningful one.
Perhaps it's better not to think about the morbid nature of the game. Its audio is almost upbeat enough, its backgrounds nearly colorful enough to allow you to ignore the dark nature of your quest and focus on hopping from one platform to the next, finding beans, finding gems, winning by getting to the finish line. The platforming stands well on its own, just as it did in the original. In fact, most of this game is quite like the original, smoothed out a bit, made bolder and prettier, but not a major departure. The beans are new, and the game is ever-so-slightly more morbid with them than without, but that's not a huge leap forward.
They Need To Be Fed 2 is familiar but worthy followup to They Need To Be Fed, and both are great little platformers. If you're new to the series, hop straight into the sequel. You won't be missing much that can't be found within. If you're already a fan, you know what to expect: the struggle, the achievement, the inevitable death. A hundred meaningful deaths or more, with hundreds of dangerous jumps in between.
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