Magiko Gaming do platforming right. It's their passion, their niche, their thing. Ever since PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain brought a pixel-perfect game design masterclass to the Xbox Live Indie channel, the small indie studio never looked back, creating a thoroughly excellent sequel along with the phenomenally enjoyable (if slightly blasphemous) Who Is God? They've won so many of our Xbox Live Indie Game Of The Week awards that we straight-up ran out.
So, naturally, we were delighted when they announced their magnum opus: a procedurally-generated platformer that encourages exploration, self-improvement and the liberal abuse of enormous firearms. Platformines has been steadily growing more impressive with every new update and trailer, wowing us with levels of customisation deeper than its deadly caverns. More excitingly, though, it's set to occupy a niche within a niche.
See, we've got a soft spot for seed-generated 'Metroidvania' sidescrollers, and we're rather spoiled for choice at the moment. Terraria wowed us last year with its world-creating chicanery, while A Valley Without Wind continues to evolve into something truly magnificent. But there's one thing that the sub-genre arguably lacks: actual platforming. You know, challenging, frequently punishing sequences of jumps, pits and obstacles that requires timing, planning and reflexes to overcome. Platformines, conversely, does the business. Now that a PC beta version is free to download (seriously, go get it), we've finally managed to get hands-on with this emergent Indie hit.
If you can imagine Spelunky twinned with Metal Slug, Super Meat Boy and Diablo, Platformines is only a tiny bit like that.
It all starts with a word. Like many seed-generated games, Platformines constructs its 2D world around on a string of text, building a truly enormous network of caves and corridors before your eyes. Some clever algorithms turn your phrase into an sprawling maze of different thematically-distinct zones, populated by treasure, horrific monsters, traps and gun-toting humanoid enemies cobbled together from an enormous selection of randomised body elements. As a miner tasked with reassembling an enormous robotic drilling platform, you're thrust into this dangerous subterranean expanse after a brief tutorial; free to explore it to your heart's content and reap the myriad loot drops over the course of several hours.
Mechanically, Platformines plays out much like a cross between Castlevania and Metal Slug. Responsive movement is coupled with a multiple jump that lets your character leap five times before they need to land, granting players an enormous amount of air control that can be used to navigate the labyrinthine depths. It's clear that Magiko learned from both Who Is God? and their PLATFORMANCE series when crafting the mechanics, taking the best elements from both along with a colourful, retro-inspired art style.
As a shoot 'em up, Platformines is no slouch either. A host of randomly generated weapons, from pistols to machine guns and shotguns, bring the four-way directional pain, and lets you fight back against the humanoid adversaries and ravening monsters that populate the depths. When combined with the multi-jump, facing off against enemies becomes a dynamic reflex-fuelled dance of death as you hop about, dodging bullets while replying with ripostes of your own.
Platformines is built around an incredibly strong economy, making the experience akin to an addictive Diablo-style loot grinder. Killing enemies rewards you with money to spend in a well-stocked shop, which contains everything from bigger item bags to New weapons, items (such as increased health capacity) and valuables abound in the deadly caverns, each of which can be equipped, stored or sold for extra resources. An incredibly detailed cosmetic customisation system allows players to tailor their avatar to their own personal tastes, and subsequently acquire new wigs or clothing throughout the cavern. As your gear improves, you'll be able to strike out on longer and longer sorties, finding new waypoint portals to take you back to your home base each time.
Of course, this being a game with PLATFORMANCE DNA, Platformines is also good and willing to put players though their paces.
The deeper you delve, the more you realise that Magiko Gaming haven't lost their mean streak. If anything it's amplified, ready to leap out and disembowel you when you least expect it. Arcane (and randomised) arrangements of spikes, blades, drills and moving platforms require split-second timing to navigate, made infinitely more dangerous thanks to some massive fall damage if you fail to use the multi-jump correctly. Some of the worlds I encountered, taken in their entirety, resemble the Lament Configuration in terms of intricacy and wicked spiny death. It's rare to see such technical and demanding platforming in a randomly-generated game, which often come out feeling quite homogenous and bland in the execution. The absense of permadeth, multiple jumps and the ability to increase your health through upgrades removes any genuine frustration, making Platformines both accessible and taxing in equal measure.
Since this is a beta impressions piece, I'd be remiss if I didn't temper some of my praise with some (hopefully constructive) criticism. First of all, the default control scheme is neither comfortable or fit for task, and mapping interactions to the Enter key isn't particularly helpful when many of the objects you'll need to interact with require split-second reflexes. Players are free to rebind (I found that manually mapping movement to WASD and using the mouse buttons for shooting/jumping was surprisingly comfortable), but hopefully the finished version will allow us to get straight into the action.
The relationship between health and vision, however, is bound to be far more controversial. As health decreases, so does the area you can actually see - which can potentially lead to a nasty feedback loop as players take damage, fail to notice enemies or hazards outside their dwindling light radius and thus take even more damage as a result, decreasing their vision radius yet further, making them take more damage... etc. Buying bigger energy belts certainly helps, and I love the sense of exploring the unknown that you can only get from fog of war mechanics, but I can't help feeling that there might be a slightly more elegant way of going about it.
These are small gripes in an otherwise impressive beta, though, and Platformines is shaping up to be absolutely phenomenal. It's an addictive loot grinder, a punishing technical platformer, a slick SHMUP and a free-roaming explor-a-thon all rolled into one; brought together with attractive artwork and infinitely replayable randomisation. Platformines is set to launch on PC later this year (potentially also as an Xbox Live Indie game), and we'll keep you up to date with the latest.
Until then, why not try it out for yourself?