Platform: PC (£7.99)
Developer: Magiko Gaming
Publisher: Namco Bandai
It's here! It's finally here!
Excuse my excitement, but Platformines has been on our radar for years. Halfway between Spelunky, Contra and Borderlands -- Borderconky, perhaps? -- this retro-themed platformer has been in development for an eternity, promising us seed-generated mines full of traps to overcome and enemies to blow up with enormous guns. Looting, shooting and exploration beckoned to us way down in the depths, and I've been beside myself with anticipation. We covered Platformines extensively since 2011 until it fell off the radar, only to be reborn and finally playable on Steam. I feel giddy and silly like a kid at Christmas.
Ooh, actually, Contralunkerlands might sound better.
The problem with excitement, though, is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations... and Platformines has a lot to live up to. Maybe a little too much as it turns out.
Once you've typed in a seed code and created an extraordinarily silly avatar, Platformines constructs a truly enormous cavern network before your eyes, populated by hordes of beasties and baddies. Since it hails from the team that brought us Platformance, the twisting corridors are naturally studded with spikes, launchers, electrified surfaces, swinging blades and other nasty contrivances. A gauntlet worth avoiding at all costs, then, if it weren't for the fact that our hero's only method of escape -- an enormous drilling robot -- lies incomplete at the centre of the maze with its missing parts scattered throughout the caves.
It's therefore up to us to gear up and go in heavy.
Doing so is fantastic fun thanks to Magiko's eye for old-school game design. Beyond the pleasingly colourful 2D visuals and fun if amateurish soundtrack, a generous multi-jump lets us pull off some surprisingly balletic manouevres, deftly leaping over hazards and foes in ways that shouldn't be possible with the traditional cardinal direction-based movement. On the combat front, four distinct weapons are on hand for different ranges (the pistol and SMG dish out consistent ranged damage, while the shotgun trades speed for power and rocket launcher can inflict lethal friendly fire). In an interesting change of pace, health is directly linked to your vision radius, meaning that taking damage lowers the amount of fog of war you can peer through, and encouraging players to consume valuable resources in exchange for replenished shields.
Though the randomly-generated levels lack the care and perfect pacing of Magiko's original platformers, it makes up for some haphazardly-arranged sections with sheer size and colourful visuals, not to mention plenty of hazards and foes to face off against. From bats and beholders to leggy gas mask wearing rocketeers and clown-masked shotgunners, there's lots to shoot.
Killing enemies will often yield you new guns, while plenty of money and valuable minerals can be found in the depths. The more loot you collect and sell back to base via regularly-spaced waypoint teleporters, the more advanced the shield and item satchel you can purchase, which allows you to spend longer and longer out in the field. It's a classic self-sustaining cycle that gradually turns short jaunts into massive raids, as you encounter and eventually beat tough challenges through each layer of strata. Eventually you'll be able to rebuild the Robodig via a fun little jigsaw-esque minigame, at which point you're free to try the whole thing over again in a completely different dungeon.
As such, Platformines offers the same thrilling hybrid experience that enraptured us back in 2011, but I'm afraid that a few problems have scuttled out of the woodwork now that we've tested the finished product to destruction.
Platformines' single biggest flaw is an act of omission, in that there's no collision between your character and enemies or hazards. You'll clip straight through foes, sawblades, spikes and the like while suffering sustained damage, which sounds reasonable in theory, but feels completely wrong and unsatisfying in practice. Once you've got a meaty shield belt, you're encouraged to just run straight through platforming gauntlets and take the hit. Worse still, primitive AI makes all gun-toting enemies charge straight towards you in an effort to stand inside your sprite - where they'll inflict damage out of range of your own gun! It undermines both the platforming and gunplay.
Even though Platformines crams plenty of Spelborderconky into its gameplay, it's also limited by what Magiko chose to leave out. Take armaments, for example. Borderlands has loads of guns, but each one feels different beyond damage and reload speeds, offering crazy quirks and elemental affinities. Platformines, meanwhile, just varies up the numbers and skins - meaning that all weapons feel the same despite different on-paper stats.
The thrill of finding new boomsticks wears off sooner or later, and once it does, I'm hard-pressed to explain exactly why it's worth pushing deeper into the labyrinth. The precision of a hardcore platformer like Spelunky has been lost on the haphazard procedural level generation, enemy variety could use a boost, while loot just boils down to new hats. Reasons for deviating from the minimap and mission become increasingly vague.
It's a shame, because I loved bouncing through the underground and blasting everything in sight during my first playthrough, but found myself less and less motivated to do so as the hours rolled on. There's plenty here, enough to warrant the price of admission, yet Platformines is stretched surprisingly thin considering its sprawling size.
- Enjoyable run & gun platforming with versatile multi-jump
- Enormous seed-generated dungeons to explore, loads of enemies and hazards to beat
- Lovely old-school sprite art and endearing soundtrack
- Lack of collisions with enemies and hazards undermines gunplay and platforming
- Unimaginative and uninspiring weapon upgrades provide little incentive to explore
- Can feel overlong and padded; potentially limited replay value
The Short Version: Platformines valiantly marries platforming, shooting, looting and procedural exploration together, but stretches itself wide and thin in the process. Absent collisions and uninspired loot make long-term appeal questionable, but what's here is curiously addictive, expansive and lovely to look at. Be sure to try the demo.