by Sorin Annuar
reviewed on PC
Upwards, Lonely Robot, developed by Random Layers and published by Kasedo Games is a simple, easy to pick up puzzle platformer where you control a ball jumping up platforms to get to the top before your energy runs out. That is the beginning and end of the game summary; on the one hand it offers a simple and pure experience which brings the likes of Kula World on the original Playstation to mind and the arcade classic Marble Madness (though really the only real connection these games have is that you control a sphere), and on the other it does not offer more beyond its core premise. Like most games in the genre, its longevity lies in how well it executes its few simple elements to cause addiction.
The game possesses its own rules of physics: your ball can jump and change direction in mid-air, as well as stick to the bottom of overhead platforms. Your energy continuously runs out and also gets depleted when you hit enemies or other obstacles. At the start of each level you are told how many levels you need to ascend to win the level. Lose all your energy and you have to restart the level.
These start deceptively simple, before the game increases the rate at which your energy drains, the number of enemies and lays out some difficult to reach platforms. You pick up fruit (yes, fruit) to restore your ball’s energy, which as the game progresses and the difficulty ramps up is just about enough to see you reach the goal. This consensus already shows the intent behind the design: that it is aiming for a somewhat light-hearted, arcade style and aesthetic. And for the most part it succeeds, without really breaking any new ground in art direction.
There is a story mode, as it were, albeit told through a few lines of text with voice over in between each level. This quickly becomes superfluous, despite its attempt to weave a narrative reason for why your robot ball is trying to climb enemy-infested towers. Additionally there are other modes, such as endless mode and a two-player mode where you race another player to the top, with adjustable parameters to make the game as challenging as you like. These are all variations on the same formula, with the odd upgrade such as double jumping and teleporting thrown in for variety. The mechanics remain the same, until you are twitch-gaming, one mistake and a fall to lower levels in later stages tantamount to a restart. This then boils down to the question of how often you want to run the gauntlet and keep upping the difficulty and parameters of the stages.
Controls are simple, tight and do what they need to do. Like the nuances of moving Tetris pieces or knowing the timing of firing the bubble in Puzzle Bobble, knowing the mechanics won’t mean you will master the game overnight. Playing with a pad is also recommended. Though controls via keyboard are supported, it does not feel anywhere near as satisfying.
The soundtrack is reminiscent of ‘90s console games: bright, upbeat and catchy. This, coupled with the bright colourful visuals means the game would not have looked out of place if you were to walk into an arcade once upon a time. These elements complement the overall feel of the game, one that aims for the pick up and play ethos. And for that reason the game does have a sense of familiarity to it; you know from the moment you pick up the controller what it is expecting of you, and in the same instance whether this is your kind of game or not.
Not very substantial
Ultimately, the amount of enjoyment you will get out of Upwards, Lonely Robot hinges solely on how much you like score attack challenges. If that is your thing, you will no doubt get a lot of long-term enjoyment out of the game. For everyone else looking for something a bit more substantial, you may be best off looking elsewhere.
Easy to pick up, can be addictive. Visuals are bright and catchy.
What you see is what you get; you will either get addicted and lose hours to it or get bored very quickly.