Developer: Extend Studio
Publisher: Origo Games
Wouldn't it be useful to have seven clones at your beck and call? That way you could attend four different day jobs and still have doppelgängers left over for a full house of Mario Kart multiplayer. Decades of science fiction tells us that nothing can possibly go wrong with that plan. No sir.
Anyway, as a certain maniacal Agent once famously said: "the best thing about being me... there are so many MEs." In this case I'm a small green blob called Filo, tasked with saving a cheerful cartoon world in puzzly platform style. Foes need stomping, switches need pressing, bottomless pits need jumping and collectibles demand snaffling; a daunting task for a tiny gelatinous globule.
Or at least it would be if a run-in with a mysterious cosmic entity hadn't granted Filo the ability to control a small army of clones and transform them into useful platforms. And dinosaurs. And rocket-launching hovertanks.
So Many Me will be instantly accessible if you've ever platformed before. Run around, jump on baddies, leap over pits and reach the exit. So long as you've got an Xbox 360 controller to hand (the keyboard controls are genuinely horrible), the formula is as comfortingly familiar as it is timeless, and boasts pleasingly responsive handling.
However, upon collecting a 'seed' hidden around the levels, Filo spawns a clone who follows him around much like an adoring -- if often confused and somewhat annoyed about the whole situation -- lapdog. After a few stages you'll have a team of eight blobs who'll quickly pound enemies into mulch, but a quick tap of the X button transforms one of your horde into a stony block that you can use to reach higher vantage points or cross otherwise impassable pits, while pressing Y recalls your most recently-placed clone. Acting like a double... or should that be septuple?... jump and a huge supply of weighted companion cubes rolled into one, this simple mechanic forms the basis of some truly fantastic puzzles.
Working out how best to deploy your limited cache of clones to depress buttons, weight platforms and create ledges is always a satisfying logic challenge that rewards deduction and presents plenty of 'Eureka' moments. However, not content to rest on its laurels, So Many Me quickly introduces new hazards and challenges, from blocking projectiles mid-jump to light-sensitive stealth and plant spores that block your ability to transform in designated areas. Coloured berries up the ante by granting your blocks new qualities, such as the ability to propel you upwards or deflect enemy bullets, all of which lead to even more complex and engaging puzzles. At key points, Gene Splicer devices allow Filo and crew to assume new forms, notably a 'squee'-worthy Jellosaur who smashes through barriers and melts the heart of even the most jaded gamer. Awww.
Crucially there's always something new and interesting to sink your teeth into and experiment with over the course of the lengthy campaign, meaning that each easily-digestible gameplay element doesn't have time to outstay its welcome.
What really impressed me about So Many Me is the sensationally smooth challenge curve, or more accurately the degree to which players can choose their own difficulty on the fly. New mechanics are introduced at a considerate pace with brisk and enjoyable tutorials, meaning that you're never overwhelmed, and reaching the exit of each stage tends to be perfectly possible so long as you apply your knowledge in imaginative new ways. Deaths are frequent, but respawns are immediate and almost always reset you to the nearest ledge.
Every stage also plays host to a clone seed, unlockable customisation options for your doppelgangers and an artefact that grants a profound positive or negative modifier (such as immunity to bullets or much tougher foes). These optional items are stashed in plain sight yet present incredibly tough puzzles of their own, meaning that you can ignore them for a breezy run, grab them all and risk countless deaths or return later with more experience. Like Rayman Origins, it's a perfect example of letting us dictate how easy or punishing we want the game to be without locking into a preset difficulty mode, meaning that So Many Me is consistently rewarding and rarely frustrating. Unless, of course, that's how you like it.
Gameplay only stumbles when you reach the boss battle at the end of each world, which tend to be paradoxically too easy and molar-crunchingly difficult at the same time. Your adversary's weakness are never less than blindingly obvious, yet the one-hit-kill gameplay can render the execution rather tough. As most of the game favours two-thirds brainpower to one-third reflex, suddenly putting all the emphasis on your thumbs feels off-kilter and out of character. A recent patch has decreased the health of a particularly egregious offender, but these encounters are very much the low point of the experience.
Extend Studio are to be congratulated for their eyecatching, adorable and detailed art direction, which oozes cute charm from every pixel-sharp foreground element, but attacks lack any sense of impact and enemies just tend to 'fall' off of the screen when defeated. The sound design fares far worse, from recycled jump and attack effects to an unmemorable score that sits inoffensively in the background without ever adding much to the experience.
So its a good thing that much of So Many Me's personality stems from the story and dialogue, which parodies the desperately boring 'hero destined to save the world' cliché as Filo hilariously resists any attempt at exposition to gleefully play with every new McGuffin, details be damned (much to the exasperation of his long-suffering mentor). What we have here is, in fact, one of the most impressive parody games I've played since Penny Arcade Episode 3, which mocks and references videogame genre tropes without wilfully shattering immersion and never falls prey to the same silly sins itself. Parody only really works from a position of strength, so as a mighty fine puzzle platformer in and of itself, So Many Me is bound to become an oft-quoted example of how to do parody right.
- Superb puzzles hinge around solid and easily-digestible platforming mechanics
- Gorgeous art direction and irrepressible personality
- Smooth yet tough challenge curve and player-dictated difficulty
- Plenty of unlocks and impressive replay value
- Uncomfortable keyboard controls (use a controller)
- Limp sound design and forgettable music
- Uneven boss battles
The Short Version: So Many Me is the very best kind of 'clone.' Accessible and innovative mechanics, coupled with a lovably cheeky personality and satisfying puzzles, give you so many reasons to get involved if you enjoy the genre.
I recommend trying the demo at the very least. As do I. And the rest of me.