December 9, 2013 Leave a comment
Protip: when naming your game, don’t give it a name that is just asking to be mocked. Such is the case with Iota. If I wanted to be an unoriginal wiseass, I could say “I didn’t like Iota one iota.” But I’m above such laziness.
Well, then again, I’ve been updating only like once a week for a couple of months now. So fuck it. Laziness for the win.
I didn’t like Iota one iota.
Iota is one of those XBLIGs that falls into the category of “looks too good.” It’s the curse of the platform. With only a few exceptions, the better an XBLIG looks, the worse it plays. Iota looks pretty dang good, which means the curse is especially potent here. The idea is you play as a robot that must go around stages collecting shiny balls of light. Collecting all of them opens up a shinier ball of light, clearing the stage. Oh, and the platforming is sort of like a stripped-down Outland, which itself could best be described as “Ikaruga with jumping.”
In the interest of fairness, I’ll disclose that I’m not wired to really like Iota all that much to begin with. I don’t like bullet hells, and I don’t like platformers that drink the bullet-hell Kool-Aid. But, in the case of Iota, the stuff I dislike the most has nothing to do with the bulletly hellness of it, and honestly the bullet-hell stuff isn’t even that bad, at least up to the point where I determined that I would never have fun with this and quit. Quick: what’s the most important thing a precision-based platformer OR a bullet hell would need? Tight controls, right?
Guess what Iota doesn’t have?
If Sega hit the Sake too much and made a platformer that controlled exactly like Sonic the Hedgehog, only heavier and starring Juggernaut from X-Men, that’s what Iota would feel like. Starting movement is too slow, stopping isn’t instantaneous, jumping feels too heavy or sometimes just doesn’t respond in time at all. In just the first three levels, I lost count of how many times I went to jump, hit the button long before I got to the cliff, and then watched as my character didn’t jump and plunged to his death. If it was less than ten times, I’ll eat my hat.
Another issue is the inconsistency of the color-swapping bullet hell gimmick. You switch the robot from red to blue, which allows you to pass harmlessly through bullets. Using the triggers as a sort of dash-attack, you can also knock out the enemies. Except the game is a bit fickle about the timing of it. Switching mostly allows you to instantaneously pass through the bullets with relative ease, but upon landing on the platform and dashing into the robot (which has to match your color in order to kill it), sometimes it would register me as still changing colors, resulting in a death. I experimented with this a lot (probably more than any play-tester did, judging by how bad it is), and it was bizarre how the bullets could be passed through instantaneously, but there was a lag in using it to kill enemies. I found out that the jumping and landing had nothing to do with the lag. I could situation myself on a platform, wait for the robot to come at me, switch colors, to the point that my robot looked fully like he had switched, dash, and die because it thought I was still the wrong color.
Level design was nearly my biggest issue, which is really impressive considering that I only played four stages. I don’t think the idea of collecting all the trinkets in a level to open up an exit works in a game like this. Maybe it was worth experimenting to find out, but really, a game based around one-hit kills and a broken checkpoint system should have simply been about getting from point A to point B. With all the backtracking, it bogs the game down, makes it less exciting. And then there was the third level, which is almost entirely done in the dark. It’s not a particularly hard stage, but because you have very limited visibility, you have to heel-toe it, nudging the stick one tiny bit at a time, like you’re masturbating the microscopic penis of a Ferrari owner. It’s shameful that the developers didn’t recognize this as BORING design. Because, above all else, your games should not bore. Every other aspect of Iota has potential to be a pretty decent platformer. But a stage like this, which can’t be played at a speed above molecular-degradation of an atom, never had potential to be anything but the most boring level in platform history. It’s only purpose is now to point and it and say “for fuck’s sake, don’t ever make a stage like this” to other developers.
Although I found nothing to like about Iota, I don’t deny this could have been something good. Certainly a foundation has been laid for something that could be entertaining. But Iota put a premium on graphics, and didn’t focus on the stuff that really matters in a platformer of this sort, and the result is a game with limited value. Tighter controls would have made a world of difference here. And stuff like the all-dark level should have never entered into the thoughts of the developer. Ten seconds of research would have shown that the number-one gripe of the vast majority of Spelunky player are the dark stages, and in Iota, the visibility a player has is much worse. Thus, Iota serves as a reminder that, with the freedom indie developers have, the flip side is you end up with level design such as this that nobody in their right fucking mind would attempt. I absolutely can’t believe the developers didn’t second-guess some of the design choices here. Ultimately, Iota’s only hope is to lure people in with its impressive graphics. Except, Iota really only looks good for an XBLIG. And that’s like saying melanoma looks good as far as cancer goes.
$1 will be keeping an eye on the Cashie Brothers, as I suspect they’ll get things right in their next game in the making of this review.
Gameplay footage courtesy of Splazer Productions