Plugemons: Part 1
January 15, 2012 54 Comments
As is normal when an XBLIG game is horrible but pretty, I have to start my review of horrible game Plugemons: Part 1 by noting that this horrible game has beautiful graphics. Really, really beautiful. That gets you really far in gaming. It’s the reason I skipped some other review requests and went straight to it. My exact words to Brian when I saw this on the marketplace were “holy shit, look at this one!” Even though my instinct told me that Xbox Live Indie Games with insanely good graphics are typically quite bad (Orbitron being one of the few exceptions), I latched onto it, like a sailor caught in the call of a Siren. Within ten seconds of playing the game, I realized I’d been had. Again. Who would have ever thought the XBLIG marketplace could double as Sirenum scopuli?
Plugemon is a puzzle game, not a platformer or a punisher. This was a source of confusion for me. You see, in Plugemon you jump from ledge to ledge, swing off of other ledges, jump on enemies heads, and try to acquire various lightning bolts scattered throughout stages like coins in a Mario game. The game’s own description, presumably written by the Plugemon’s developer, doesn’t mention the word “puzzle” until it notes things like jumping, running, and dying a lot.
So when I tweeted that the game sucked, the developer took exception to this and demanded an explanation. I gave him a few. “The controls are horrible and very unresponsive. Scrolling is jerky. There are issues with enemy visibility.” Now, I expect a developer to defend their product. It’s their baby after all. What I normally don’t expect is for a developer to claim their product is something that it is not. Which is what the Plugemon developer did. He noted that the game is not a platformer, but a puzzler.
You can see why I’m so confused. It’s true that a couple of the levels featured the ability to switch from your main character to other members of its species. Using them, you hit switches. That’s it. There’s no real puzzle element that I noticed. Granted, I only made it to world 1-8 before I finally quit because the game is an unplayable piece of shit, but still. By the way, the switching element was only in half the stages to that point. If you’re going to claim to be a puzzle game, step one should be having puzzles. Instead, Plugemon has fetch quests. You have to acquire a certain amount of red lightning bolts scattered throughout each stage to activate an exit portal. This involves searching a level for them. That’s not really a puzzle. That’s just a typical convention of platforming games.
Regardless of what genre you call it, bad controls will ruin any game. Plugemons: Part 1 has terrible play control. Your guy moves like he just took a bath in honey. His mobility is severely limited, and he’s not all that responsive to the directions you give him. Despite being a puzzler that is barely a platformer at all, Plugemon primarily deals with jumping from platform to platform. The jumping physics are completely broken. Your character feels like he’s leaping through wet cement. It’s slow and clumsy. There’s also some sort of issue with landing. Sometimes, I would land on the edge of a ledge and then slip off it for no apparent reason. This happened a lot. The only way to avoid it is to land dead center in the middle of the platform, but that’s not always an option.
Collision detection with the baddies is a problem too. The main enemies are spider-like thingies that do electrical charges when you get near them. This doesn’t actually seem to kill you as long as you land on them properly. The problem is the actual spot to kill them is too small and more often than not, I would jump on them, only to miss that microscopic hit-point and die. Later in the game, miniature spiders appear and they are damn near impossible to land on properly.
It’s such a shame because, once again, the game is really good-looking. And the characters have an actual personality, unlike, say, Oozi. But the game is unplayable because of both the control issues and the overall level design. I finally quit on level 1-8. The idea in it is the level is shrouded almost completely in darkness. So you have to trial-and-error your way through it. Which is kind of a far-fetched goal because you can’t see the springs you need to get to platforms, the cannons you need to get to others, the ledges you need to stand on, or any of the traps that can kill you. This is “GOTCHA!” gameplay. You walked into a spike that you couldn’t see. GOTCHA! You tried to walk to a platform and fell to your death. GOTCHA! You jump down off a cliff and into a buzzsaw hidden in total darkness. GOTCHA! You land on a platform and an invisible enemy kills you. GOTCHA!
When the game’s own description notes you die a lot, you would be right to assume that the game tried to be a punisher. The developer denied this, but there was a very telling moment in our little tweet-off. When I brought up the bad play control, this is how they responded.
I never brought up Super Meat Boy. Nor do I ever bring up Super Meat Boy when talking with developers of punishers. It’s just not a game that I care to invoke. It’s alright, if a tad bit overrated, but my experience playing it is not high on my cherished gaming memories list. It just sort of exists. Yet, whenever I bitch about a platforming game having shitty controls, as sure as the tide comes in, the developer will bring up Super Meat Boy. The VolChaos guy did it too. “Your game has shitty control.” “Blah blah blah Super Meat Boy, blah blah blah, blah blah.”
Look, just because your game is hard to beat doesn’t make it Super Meat Boy. In some cases, people think it’s a fair comparison just because of the difficulty level. In the case of Plugemon, it’s clear they were actually trying to be close to Super Meat Boy. Let’s review. Advertising that you die a lot? Check. Levels shrouded in darkness? Check. A stage where you’re being chased by a giant-sized boss? Check. Buzzsaws as one of the primary obstacles? Check. Hey, I didn’t invite comparison. They did. I’m just pointing out the obvious. The Twitter message is a classic example of projection. I say the controls suck, they say I expected Super Meat Boy, a game that is nothing wink like the puzzle game nudge they made, elbow.
I do expect a game to control well though, and I could control Super Meat Boy, a far more complicated game. In it, you had to wall jump, clear large gaps, and make precision landings on platforms. I could do all that just fine. In Plugemons: Part 1, it’s difficult to even leap a small gap, or correctly hit the weak spot of an enemy that’s pretty large in size. Super Meat Boy also had smaller levels designed around its punisher style. Here, the levels can be sprawling, yet there are no checkpoints. If you die, you have to wait while the overly-long death animation takes over before respawning at the start of the level. This is especially annoying in a game where most of your deaths are going to be the fault of the busted controls and not due to your lack of skills.
Overall, Plugemons: Part 1 is without any redeeming quality. Yes, it’s pretty, which I’m sure will lead to some very thick people saying “it’s worth it just for the art.” No it’s not. What kind of simpleton plays games for their graphics anymore? It’s 2012 for God’s sake! Good graphics are everywhere. If it’s worth it just for the graphics, that presumably that means you’re willing to pay a dollar to watch someone else play it. Say, that gives me an idea. Party at my house! One dollar a head cover charge. Watch me play this shitty game. Bring your own beverages. No fatties.
80 Microsoft Points think those simpletons are the guys who run Dream Build Play in the making of this review.
By the way, how the fuck did Bionic Thumbs confuse their own game as being a puzzler? They made a puzzler, Starzzle, and it was not bad.