Platformance: Castle Pain

A game by Magiko Gaming for Xbox 360, originally released in 2010.
While some kids spent their off-time in school doodling army men and tanks blowing the hell out of each other with oversized artillery (an act that can actually get you arrested these days… yeesh), some of us were instead drawing out huge imaginary video game levels. Actually, some of us older gamers were sketching out huge Dungeons & Dragons maps… but it’s the same basic idea. We’d toss in all manner of fantastic creatures, sword-wielding skeletons, pits of water full of deadly aquatic life, and towering creatures blocking the way to fortune and glory.
Platformance: Castle Pain basically is that sketch sheet come to life and fully-realized in an actual game world. The world is presented as a singe gigantic level, one which you can zoom out and view all at once, and you’ll actually see the ornate frame holding the whole thing together. The game features 3 levels of zoom, which are toggled with the press of a button, operating in the same manner as Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, which Platformance beat to market by a couple of weeks.

You may need to zoom out to get a look at your surroundings, but often you’ll be too busy with what’s right in front of you to do so. The entire game is going on at all times, with fire rising up from a volcano, spikes constantly jutting out and retracting, and moving platforms sliding back and forth. You can play the game on any zoom level, but the fully zoomed in mode is the one of choice. The second zoom level lets you check out your immediate surroundings, while the fully zoomed out mode lets you see how far along you are in the game as a whole.

Aside from the ability to zoom out and take in all of the many sundry dangers that await you, you have only a control stick and a JUMP button. Movement is a bit slow, and you don’t have much horizontal distance in your jump. This takes some getting used to, as you’ll be constantly trying to keep your pixels from touching those that mean you harm. Getting in too much of a rush is a recipe for certain destruction, and the near-instantaneous respawn may tempt you to rush in again… only to die once more. You’ll need to learn the controls and understand your limitations because you’re not often given much margin for error. There are plenty of times when you will be required to make precise, pixel-perfect jumps.

This game is designed to kill you… a lot. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with deadly things… and that’s just on the easiest difficulty setting. Playing it in hardcore mode ups the ante and vastly increases the amount of stuff that will punch you in your food hole. You will very often be greeted with the image of your valiant knight bursting into a spray of blood, and his helmet dropping to the floor.

And, even though there is actually only one level in the game, it is made up of a number of smaller themed areas. They fit together very nicely, and the transitions from one area to the next make sense within the context of the game world. For instance, the volcano at the beginning of the game has to be contended with several times as you cross its path in the higher sections. And, one area has you dodging globs of goo, only to move up to the next platform to discover what was dropping them.

Since the enemies and obstacles are “in play” at all times (i.e. not influenced by your scroll box, as in most older 2D games), you can sometimes zoom out to see a potential danger coming, such as arrows being launched up from below you. If you were zoomed all the way in, you’d be struggling to dodge them, but zooming out lets you see them and move out of danger with no trouble.

You can die as often as you’d like, and checkpoints (represented by torches) are pretty frequent. However, that still does not make things easy, as surviving even the shortest trans-checkpoint run can be a bit of a challenge. You do have infinite continues, but there is one thing that can kill you permanently: the ghost.

Early on, you will activate something that looks a bit like a ghost from one of the Pac-Man games, only this one has hollow soulless eyes, and you are never given the opportunity to kill it. It will follow you endlessly throughout the entire game, and touching it means instant and permanent death, with no chance to continue. Since the design of the level wraps back in on itself a few times, you’ll often have the opportunity to watch the ghost creeping slowly by on a path that you had previously taken, a constant reminder that death is coming for you. In the immortal words of Kyle Reese: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Or, until you rescue to the princess, at any rate.

When you die at the hands of the ghost, you’ll get a screen showing the last major obstacle you bested along with how long you managed to survive (in minutes and seconds), and your total death count. Oh, and it will contain a message that generally goads you into giving it another shot. For instance, if you die in the bat cave, you’ll be simultaneously praised for making it past the volcano, but challenged with “Can’t you beat the bats?” The game is calling your skills into question. You’re not going to let it get away with that, are you?

And that’s what it’s all about, really, just surviving the gauntlet and saving the princess. The beginning of the game starts with a somewhat meta loading screen that simply reads “capturing princess”, and that is the entire purpose for your quest. It’s no more complicated than that, and it doesn’t have to be. The game takes pride in its old school ways, and does not build up some huge meaning behind your adventure, nor does it have you speaking with numerous NPC’s to help you on your way. It’s up to you, your joystick, and your single action button to save the day and rescue the princess.

If you manage to make it all the way to the end and rescue the princess, you’ll feel a much-deserved sense of accomplishment… but the princess may not be too impressed. You may be told to try again and to try not to die so much, and discover that you've earned a bronze medal for your efforts.

Even though you’ve played through to the end, the challenge is not yet over. You can replay for a faster time and fewer deaths, or bump the difficulty up to the next level and give it a go with even more dangers to contend with and obstacles that move at an even higher speed. The very short length of the game (it’s only a few minutes long) is balanced by its low cost, and high replay value.

Platformance: Castle Pain was the first game released by indie game studio Magiko Gaming. Following this, Magiko released Bunker Buster, and a sequel to this game, entitled Platformance: Temple Death.

Platformance: Temple Death

Platformance: Temple Death is the second game in the Platformance series, and the setting has undergone a fairly drastic change. Instead of a knight running through a castle to save a kidnapped princess during the Dark Ages, you’re an adventurer heading into the Peruvian jungle in 1947 to infiltrate a temple and rescue an actress who was kidnapped by “savages”. The second game has more of an Indiana Jones feel to it, especially given that the lead character is outfitted in a brown fedora and carries a whip.

The adventurer will jump across vines, ride logs down a raging river, and jump to avoid a waterfall, before finally infiltrating the walls of the temple, which is filled with its own traps. Rescuing the actress will result in various in-game rewards, including (virtual) autographed photographs and the lady’s undergarments. Flopwards make a return as well, as introduced in Bunker Buster, and there are local and online leaderboards.

Bunker Buster
Prior to Temple Death, Magiko released a game entitled Bunker Buster on Xbox Live Indie Games and Windows Phone 7. Bunker Buster is a flight/bombing game that is meant to harken back to the gameplay presented in an old cassette-based Vic-20 game called Blitz.

In Blitz, a plane moves slowly across the screen from left to right, flying over a cityscape with rows of tall buildings packed tightly together. The only control the player has is to drop bombs, which will fall straight down, destroying a few sections of the building they hit. The taller the building, the more bombs you must drop to destroy them, with the ultimate goal of destroying every building to clear a safe place for your plane to land. As the game continues, the plane slowly gets lower and lower to the ground, so if the buildings are not destroyed quickly enough, you will eventually crash into one of them. Proper timing and precision bombing are required for success.

Bunker Buster is based around these same basic elements, and features bombing runs on specified targets, as well as destructible environments. At first, the destructible environments just add to the cosmetic appeal of the game, as a stray bomb may blow a hole in the ground or the side of a hill. However, as the game continues, the player will be placed in situations where bombs must be dropped to clear obstacles that block the primary objective. You may have to perform a single run to clear the path, and then fly back over the target to bomb it.

There are 6 different types of aircraft, ranging from your standard planes and helicopters to guys in jetpacks equipped with missile launchers. You fly through 32 single-screen levels, destroying targets and avoiding friendlies. Controls are basic, with one button increasing your height and the other releasing your bombs/missiles. Flight is a bit wobbly, since you will constantly be at odds with gravity, thrusting upward in spurts to escape its grasp, which requires you to fan the button to get through tight spaces. Some types of aircraft are heavier than others, and you’ll have to fight harder to keep them airborne.

Bunker Buster was also the first of Magiko’s games to feature Flopwards, which are achievements centered around poor performance, such as destroying too many friendlies, crashing too often, or running out of fuel. The title also features local and online leaderboards.

As the name implies, Platformines is a cross between a platformer and the now-popular mining sub-genre of action-adventure games. Players set out across a large procedurally generated world to hunt for valuable minerals, destroy monsters, uncover hidden treasures, and even fight off other explorers along the way. Collected resources can be used to increase your life bar, add to your carrying capacity, and increase your firepower… all of which are needed to get back into the mine and fight your way through more dangerous territory and greater rewards.

You set out from a teleporter and collect many minerals as you can while fighting enemies. Monster-type enemies occasionally drop cash, with tougher enemies dropping higher denominations, while human enemies sometimes drop weapons or stat-modifying hats. Discovering teleporters around the game world allows you to warp quickly back to the safety of your home base and to explore outward into new areas.

A shop system allows you to sell off materials and unneeded weapons to buy upgrades, but larger health bars and bigger sacks are prohibitively expensive until you get into more difficult areas of the game, forcing a steady progression. The freedom of the open world allows the player to play carefully and slowly edge his stats upward, or throw caution to the wind to gain rewards more quickly.