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Joined on: Jul 25, 2016

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28 Reviews

ActualKale [Creator]
For: I wanna be the Friendly Needle

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[12] Likes
Rating: N/A       Difficulty: N/A
Jun 11, 2021
For: Hydrohomies
Congrats on release!

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[3] Likes
Rating: N/A       Difficulty: 87 87
Jan 17, 2021
For: Alphazetica
Thoroughly polished in several ways. It has great variety and slick visuals along with creative and fun design. Also teases with some interesting gimmicks you'd wanna see more of. Chatran's apple room is one of the best needle screens I've played.

Very little to object to!

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[3] Likes
Rating: 9.2 92       Difficulty: 65 65
Aug 23, 2020
For: I Wanna Save My Boy
Thinking in recent needle goes to good way! I challenge any needle purist out there to show me a single "non-gimmick" needle game that accomplishes what Save my Boy does in terms of fundamental, down-to-brass-tacks gameplay feel. As far as making smooth-playing needle goes I don't think anyone has done it better than Arzzt has with this one.

Save my Boy is a needle game etc.. There's not much here that's groundbreaking; it has multiple stages in a linear fashion, it has a somewhat endearing plot, it has puzzly elements to the needle design and it has some simple but always-welcome-as-a-change-of-pace bosses. Still, it's incredible, Arzztt's best game no debate. Not long after starting you begin getting the feeling that he has tapped into a golden way of making games where he can comfortably and endlessly push out fantastic-feeling needle. He just knows what he's doing so well. And consistently so: there are long streaks of the game (long here means really long compared to most needle games, SMB is a chunky game) where Arzzt isn't missing a beat; just save after save of satisfying maneuvers and clever pathing. In fact, that's the majority of the game. It really isn't until the last few stages where a few annoying saves which abandon the game's core principles (such as not starting saves with full-jumps or avoiding having precise jumps with certain gimmicks) show up but these comprise such a small portion of the game they're not worth going over.

Many gimmicks show up along the way, most of them familiar (although not necessarily very thoroughly explored prior) but there are also a few that at least I haven't seen before. Gimmicks continue to sporadically show up after their introduction and it's not long before you've assembled an intuitive grasp of quite the sizeable repertoire of skills. Giving players the knowledge of how these mechanics work along with some practice allows Arzztt to eventually combine them together for increasingly complex strings of jumps. The difficulty progression in terms of how the moves are used is very impressive. If you're not paying attention to it you might not even notice that the jumps are getting more intricate as it happens gradually alongside your own familiarity with the mechanics. It's seamless and the feeling of adding new tools to your toolbox is sweet.

Overall, I find the vast majority of gimmicks used to be excellent from a mechanic standpoint. My favorite kinds of gimmicks are ones that don't tamper much with the base physics but rather feel like extensions to the environment. Most of SMB's gimmicks are that, additions to the kit of movement-enabling tools. Some, such as the keyblocks (which are terrific for enforcing interesting pathing), the shoryuken (occasional replacement for platform jumps) and the different platform variations (simple but versatile) are things I'd love to see become staples of needle games.

I also have to remark on how clever much of the gimmick implementation is. I'd like to think that you have an easier time appreciating certain level design solutions when you're yourself accustomed to some of the challenges and there were parts where I genuinely let out a spontaneous giggle in amusement over some novel use of a gimmick. What especially won me over was the pathing around the rooms. Arzztt loves having you traverse the same portions of a room several times with different destinations and the new tools certainly allow for quite ingenious ways to accomplish that. There are at least a couple of places where you might have to brain-wrinkle a little over what the right order of operations is, which, at least when the screen isn't cluttered, tends to reflect brilliance in design.

I mentioned earlier that Arzztt repeatedly proves that he knows exactly what he's doing. Sometimes, I believe, this is to the detriment of the game. One of the reasons the platforming in Save my Boy works so well is because it uses the same 5 or so tried-and-true maneuvers a lot. You might say it almost only uses this handful. These maneuvers are presented differently and are forced through the use of different gimmicks but ultimately the way jumps feel starts getting familiar rather quickly. This is of course not necessarily a problem because, as I said before: the game consistently plays fantastically and the rush a fun segment can bring out hasn't worn out by the end of the game. It's also not obvious that pushing a greater variety would be some intrinsic good, maybe these 5 (or so) maneuvers are sufficient for any needle game. My charge is not that the gameplay is repetitive either - it has plenty of variety. SMB does a good job not just with introducing new gimmicks but also with combining them in novel ways along with sprinkling in little quirks and curveballs with regards to how the gimmicks are used.
So what then is the objection? I find SMB to be, as a result of, I think, Arzztt being a little too stuck in his comfort zone, forgettable. Now, 'forgettable' is a strong, value-laden word with clear negative connotations. I use it here in a more literal sense, the game is easy to forget - it's as fun as any fangame has been when you play it but doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.
I'm now gonna elaborate by first reiterating an important point: it's not that the game feels monotonous that is the problem. Rather it's that the number of ways the game engages you (or me, anyways) is limited. I'm engaged at some primal level by the gameplay, feeling like a platforming legend as I'm zipping between one gimmick after the next at a madman's pace. It's at its best when some deeper part of my consciousness takes over and intuition-based reaction takes over to where the game almost plays itself. Fingers just know what to do - there is a trance-like quality to it. This engagement lasts as long as the game is running. When I turn it off I forget about it and it's not before I am once again in-game, doing loop-arounds and wooshy-weaves that I remember what made me want to play it in the first place.

Why do I struggle to be engaged by SMB outside of enjoying the platforming and what does it have to do with the game re-using the same few maneuvers? The deeper issue, of which the maneuver thing is a symptom, is that the game suffers from being inoffensive. Here are some examples of inoffensiveness: there is never an exceptionally hard jump at the end of a save, none of the bosses have too much HP, all the save positions are just in the right place, you never have to do multiple consecutive full-jumps, difficulty variance between saves is negligible. All of these things along with probably dozens of other present, more subtle design qualities, are commonly seen as marks of good design. They're like little rules that experienced gamemakers are cognizant of and mostly abide by to save players frustration. However, there is a fine line between inoffensiveness/convenience and blandness. The times where things just roll on without much friction aren't what tends to catch our attention or stick in our memory, for better or worse it's the times we struggle that do. Save my Boy isn't bland but a lesser version of it. The problem isn't that the game is too good - that it's lacking of blemishes - the problem is that it's so polished it becomes predictable. I think it abides by too many rules. Further elaboration follows.

The difficulty balance in SMB is very polished. It hits the sweet-spot where the saves are hard enough to feel significant but easy enough for the progression to almost never feel like it's halting. What happens is that it's so balanced it becomes predictable. It's almost like there was a formula used for structuring saves to accomplish the perfect difficulty: a smooth first jump, a slightly harder second jump that involves a longer series of movements, a not-so-hard final jump etc. . Or something like that. And with so many of the jumps being similar in nature there is rarely gonna be something showing up that plays to anyone's individual weakness. What this means is, to some degree, that if you can beat one save you can beat all of them. As a result of there being so few difficulty spikes, the sense of accomplishment diminishes over time - you beat your 129th save by utilizing the same skillset you did on 110 out of the prior 128 saves. When you stop feeling accomplished the progression aspect of the game stops being engaging. I think this is true regardless of how good you are.

To add to what's said above, the pacing really barely changes at all over the course of the game. Not only are most saves of very similar difficulty (even in the final stages it arguably doesn't ramp up at all!) but they're also of very similar length. Stages too are of similar length to one another, and of similar structure. Even the final stage doesn't feel like a final stage - it has little to no features suggesting it's something out of the ordinary (and the final boss is just disappointing, not because I craved some grandiose tying-up-the-bag finale but because I wish a game this good wouldn't be afraid of taking itself seriously. Same criticism levied at credits and some of the dialogue). After you start realizing that the game follows such a strict structural formula, the discovery aspect becomes less engaging (discovering new gimmicks remains enjoyable throughout).

So, at some point (pretty early on) I lose track of which stage I am in along with interest for what comes next. This problem is facilitated by the fact that most of the game also looks very similar. If you showed me a room with all the obstacles removed I couldn't tell you how late or early in the game it shows up, and I played 90% of this game today and yesterday! The tilesets are very pristine-looking: they're smooth, clean and comfortable to rest your eyes on. They never intrude on the platforming either, contrasts are clear as day. Unfortunately there's just very little mix-up between stages and the general style of the visuals is, despite its elegance, also quite nondescript and not very evocative. You don't get the sense of an adventure where you're exploring increasingly dangerous environments farther and farther from home but given the story I feel like that's exactly what is supposed to happen.

Additionally, it looks very similar to Arzztt's earlier games. If you pulled a screenshot from just about anywhere in SMB and said it was from VoVoVo I don't think anyone who hasn't played this themselves would question you. The game has a cohesive visual identity but it's not an original one. Speaking of visual identity, I've so far omitted mentioning what I think is an even bigger contributing factor to the stages blending together: they almost all look the same room layout-wise. Having good-looking and DISTINCT room layouts makes discovery more enticing, makes the platforming more enjoyable and makes the game less forgetable. There's nothing offensive to the eyes anywhere in SMB but no one can make the case there's much variation. I even think the game itself does a good job proving the importance of the role layouts play for the memorability of their respective rooms. My three favorite rooms were the 254 room, the spinner room and the spike ride room. If you've played the game you probably know which ones I'm talking about, they stand out for several reasons, visuals being a major one.

To wrap things up and because the negative portion of my review has taken up so much space I want to repeat what's most important: Save my Boy is incredible. For maybe the 5th time: no other fangame does this particular design style as good as consistently. It's often creative as hell. It could be better but so could any game and with the seeming ease that Arzztt comes up with his brand of needle design I don't see the current trajectory of his games getting better and better changing. I think it just takes straying a little farther outside of his comfort zone to make something that is not just really fun but also engaging in a broader variety of ways and thus, ultimately, more memorable.

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[19] Likes
Rating: 9.5 95       Difficulty: 68 68
Aug 20, 2020
For: I Wanna Jump 2: Legend of the 60 Gates
I don't normally rate games without having beaten them, but I'm going to make an exception for this game. I'm currently at around 50 gates and I have to give the game credit, this is a perfect brain dead game to play while chilling in voice calls or watching various streams. While my progress through the game has been slow, it has managed to be a continually relaxing experience to play through. If I had to complain about the game it would be that it's made in gm8 and not studio, because on my old pc the game would consistently run at lower than 50fps, and would have constant lag spikes on autosaving through the gates. Despite these minor gripes with the game, it has stayed as a fun and chill game to just randomly load up and just do a few gates. Do Recommend.

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[10] Likes
Rating: 7.0 70       Difficulty: N/A
May 7, 2020
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