Old school games are often filled with technical limitations that made them harder than they otherwise would have been. The modern term for this is "fake difficulty," and although it's a bit of an overused catch-all to describe challenging games, it often applies to many works, even today. Trambo [$0.99] is one such game that often feels unfair as a result of its design, but masochists will still find a lot to like despite its flaws.
Trambo's gimmick is extremely simple -- you'll use its "two button" control scheme to get to the bottom of each stage, and collect the three stars hidden within. All you have to do is tap either the left or right side of the screen to get the hero moving, at which point you'll simply drop down constantly until you reach the end. The controls work mostly because you don't have to do any jumping, shooting, or anything complicated. Jumping is done automatically by way of trampolines strewn about each stage, which brings about its own challenges. Aesthetically, Trambo isn't all that much to look at, but the action is fairly smooth and the soundtrack is delightfully old school.
A "death ray" is constantly coming down on you from the top of the screen, forcing you to think fast and continue your descent. Remember Mega Man 2's Quick Man stage that featured the beams coming at you from all angles, intended to keep you moving? That's basically what the death ray is, and it's a nice touch to keep you on your toes. Since you're just constantly falling from platform to platform, the controls make things easy. That is, until you realize that you are required to obtain three stars in every stage to unlock the next set of levels -- then the game starts to get a little more frustrating. The problem with Trambo is that the view is so zoomed in, that it's tough to judge where anything is, and it soon becomes a trial and error affair.
At one point I needed a star at the very end of a level to progress, as I already had the relatively easy first two pickups. Eventually there was a fork in the road, and I chose left -- the star was on the right, with no way to go back and obtain it. Instead, I had to re-do the entire level over again just to get that one star. It doesn't help that there's no real pause function (it just brings you back to the level select screen), no quick retry button, and the fact that there's hardly any checkpoints hurts a bit. You'll also need to turn your brightness way up if you want to see any of the ill-designed floor hazards, many of which just look like normal floorboards.
It's frustrating, because Trambo provides a decent amount of skill-based challenges mixed in with all the frustration. There are some segments that require pinpoint accuracy, and provide a legitimate sense of accomplishment when you clear them. Some of the better levels also feature a labyrinthine type of design intended to trick you into dark corners and dead ends, and it's at this point where the game really shines.
With a few small adjustments, Trambo could be a must-have for retro enthusiasts. Zoom out the camera a bit, make a few of the traps more pronounced, and either put stars in more logical locations, or just remove the collection requirement entirely, and you'd have a better platformer. The game has its moments, but more often than not you're fighting the level design, which is a problem. Despite the issues though, Trambo is a nice break from the immediacy and the need for instant gratification of many games in the current era -- just be ready for the urge to throw your device across the room a few times.
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