You know, there’s a kind of genre I don’t quite get why people like it: The puzzle platformer. I’ve tried playing some of the ones so highly recommended to me, only to leave with frustration and disappointment. A lot of puzzle platformers get me so frustrated that it soured the overall experience for me. But there’s one I played recently that got me rethinking my outlook on this genre, transgender memes notwithstanding.
Celeste. The puzzle platformer from EXOK Games that came out on 2018 that has become a transgender allegory in recent years, due to some of the plot relating a lot to trans folk. Lead designer Maddy Thorson realizing her own trans journey through the game after the release probably helped a bit too. We always need more queer game designers, after all.
I’m not gonna get too much into the non-gameplay elements here. The art style’s cool by using pixel art in a way that’s unique without feeling too much like deliberate retro bait, Lena Raine’s soundtrack is tense yet touching at the right moments (and I never got to play any of the B-sides which also sound like a bunch of bangers), and the story is rather touching and something I can relate to as someone who struggles through life. But I wanna talk about this game further cementing my belief on puzzle platformers.
When I mention I get frustrated by these kind of games, I’m not kidding. When I think about some of the action/puzzle platformers I played for the blog last year, like Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit and Blood of the Werewolf, I leave those games with frustration and anger. How one mistake will usually result in death, with little chance to redeem yourself. Some parts of these games are so malicious to the player that requires so much perfect timing that I’m surprised I haven’t thrown my controller into my computer screen after some of the bullshit I had to go through to beat it.
But it doesn’t just apply to those mostly-forgotten niche platformers. It applies to the more popular ones as well. For example, I never finished the critically acclaimed VVVVVV. The gravity-shifting puzzle platformer with a pseudo-DOS art style and catchy chiptune music was an absolute chore to play at spots. A lot of hazards and pixel-perfect precision to make it across made it maddeningly to play, so much so that I only got about halfway through it before giving up on it.