Maddening Euphoria (Review)

Man, I miss the good old days when I’d spend $1 on a small-scale indie and two hours later I’d have a review posted for it. Back when I was the Queen of Xbox Live Indie Games, most of the games I’d select to feature on this blog, for better and for worse, didn’t require a massive time investment to deliver a verdict on. This week, I was feeling particularly nostalgic for that, so I threw on Maddening Euphoria by Allison James and her Chequered Ink studio. I didn’t even realize I’d already done a game by her, 2019’s Gyro Boss DX. It was, you know, fine. Nothing special, but also nothing specifically wrong with it. It’s a Top 100 game on the IGC Leaderboard (#79 as of this writing) that also holds the rare distinction of being one of those games I’ve kept playing after the review was over. To this day, if I have my Switch and I only have five to ten minutes to kill, I’ll either boot-up Gyro Boss DX or Not Not. I’ll have a lot more fun messing around with them than I will having my iPhone scream at me to buy micro-transactions even on games that in theory shouldn’t have any. The medium NEEDS those quick burst, nothing gained, nothing lost type of games that make otherwise boring wait times pass faster. I can’t imagine someone in a line or a waiting room saying “I only have ten minutes. Let’s see if I can get a little further in Breath of the Wild!”

Maddening Euphoria has simple, stark graphics that remind me of Lumines. Along with the soundtrack, it gives the whole game a music video-like vibe. Oh, and since there’s really no place in the actual review for me to bitch about this, this is one of those games that blocks you from recording clips with your Switch. Screenshots only. Very maddening, but not euphorically so.

Maddening Euphoria is cut from the same cloth as Gyro Boss DX in that it’s optimized for short play sessions and based around challenging your own high scores. And, when I say short, I mean most of my rounds lasted a matter of seconds. It’s sort of like a randomly-generated version of the Impossible Game. A punisher where you must outrun a pace bar while leaping over pits and spikes. I’ve got a lot of grievances to air with it, so please keep in mind that I ultimately enjoyed this game. I thought I’d put an hour or two into it and be done. Two days later and I’m finally typing this review WHILE still playing it, and that counts for something. Of course, I’m still playing it while typing because I’m trying to figure out how to explain what exactly is happening. Besides the random layouts, the hook is that you’re running on an ever-rotating cylinder. You’re always somewhere near the top, and the further you distance yourself from the pace bar, the sooner the layout in front of you seems to spawn. I think.

Is that a llama or an alpaca? I can never tell the difference. One or the other spit in my Mom’s face once. She had it coming. She called it ugly. It was kind of ugly. The best part was it smiled right before it did it. One of the most unforgettable moments in my family’s history.

There’s no tutorial, explanations, or instructions besides telling you to move and jump. This led to some weird issues. Like, I thought the high score listed in the corner was broken. Nope. You see, there’s 36 different “themes” which is basically color schemes, and the displayed high score is only for the specific theme you’re playing. The game defaults to shuffling randomly through themes, and I didn’t realize that. This made me think “oh, wait, it’s NOT randomly generated and the themes are like levels and do specific objects in specific orders.” Nope, they’re definitely randomly generated. If certain themes are more likely to spawn certain types of levels, I didn’t catch onto it. There’s only so many types of ways Maddening Euphoria’s formula can generate a stage, and if the themes influence it, it’s subtly so. Of course, 36 themes means that, instead of having one high score to challenge yourself over and over again, you have 36 to go through. That gets annoying. Why not have both the theme high AND the overall high on display?

In addition to play modes where you’re always jumping or where you run automatically and can’t move backwards, there’s 155 special challenges that you can play separately. Do you know what the problem with these are? YOU GUESSED IT: the levels are still randomly generated. It begs the question: why even have challenges separate from the main modes? Why not just have them check off like achievements through normal gameplay? Once I realized that the maps for the challenges were randomly generated, I quit playing them, because I’d rather go for a high score. In the unlikely event I have a game that lasts an hour (the 155th and final challenge here) I’d legitimately kick myself for wasting it on the challenge and not the main game.

The cylindrical platforming is a nice novelty, but it also creates visibility issues. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is blind jumping where you could possibly either fall to your death or stick the landing, with no way of being able to logic out how to fall. Unless I’m just terrible at this (don’t rule that out), there’s a lot of blind jumps in Maddening Euphoria, especially when you have to bounce off a trampoline and/or clear a large gap before seeing what comes after the gap. The nature of the game demands split-second judgment, but I’ve been killed by moments where, at the time the jump happens, there was no way of knowing where to land until I was too committed to change direction. Actually, there were many instances where I honestly question whether the layout was even survivable. I’m sure it was, but it probably required absolute perfection in terms of what pixel to jump off of and how far you had to press on the stick mid-air. Maddening Euphoria is a game where your high scores will be heavily influenced by how lucky (or unlucky) you were with the game’s level lottery. I wish they had just done 36 levels hand designed stages. Mind you, I’m not anti-procedural. The #1 ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard as of this writing, Dead Cells, is also randomly generated. But, as I’ve noted in reviews for games like Chasm (which I loved) or Cloudberry Kingdom (which I didn’t), while I’m sure creating an algorithm that works every time is difficult, randomly generated levels will always be inelegant and make luck factor in as much as skill.

When the pace bar is close to you, a meter charges up. Fill up the meter and you gain a “second wind” which gives you a massive speed boost. You can use this strategically by deliberately teasing the bar, but there’s many risks involved. If you’re mid-jump and the layout is spitting out narrow platforms when the meter fills all the way, the second wind will probably kill you, since aiming your jumps with the enhanced speed is very difficult. Oh, and Second Winds spawn flashing triangles that give you a letter in E-U-P-H-O-R-I-A. When you fill that up all the way, you get a longer speed burst and all the spikes disappear. I don’t know if it lasts forever. I always died shortly after getting it. The controls are solid, until the speed boosts kicks-in, at which point you lose precision. In a game that demands precision, this is a problem.

Personally, I don’t really get the appeal in randomly generated stages. I never will. They’ll never have the elegance that hand-crafted stages have, and that’s all there is to it. Procedural generation’s promise of “never being the same game twice” is completely bullshit. It’s always the same game, every single time, and to say otherwise is like saying any game with random elements such as dice rolls or cards is never the same game twice. To Chequered Ink’s credit, Maddening Euphoria doesn’t use the bullshit “never the same game twice” spiel in its advertising. Plus, it only costs $1, which is a steal. For all the bitching I just did, seriously, this is worth more than $1. I turned this on and expected to play it for an hour and write this review. That was Wednesday. Now it’s Friday and I’ve put seven hours into it. And I really, really hate blind jumping and leap-of-faith platforming, so that speaks volumes for good this is. For all the unfairness and problematic design, every time I turned on Maddening Euphoria, I couldn’t put it down for over an hour. It has a potently addictive “just one more round” quality that the best modern arcade-style games have. Yea, I wish that they’d gone another direction with it, or at least hand-crafted the challenge levels, but I keep going back to how I’d find myself looking at the clock as I played this and say “shit, where did the last hour go?” Only time will tell if this will find its way permanently into my “I only have five minutes to kill” lineup. I’ll say this: if that time is spent with Maddening Euphoria, it should pass quite quickly.

Maddening Euphoria is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #134 of 304 Ranked Games*
Top 79 Percentile of All IGC Indie Reviews
Top 56 Percentile of All IGC Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Maddening Euphoria was developed by Chequered Ink
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1 was spat on by an alpaca in the making of this review.

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