words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Brilliant Blue-G for PC and Xbox 360, originally released in 2011.
Chester is a game that is at once both simple and complex in design. On the one hand, it is a pure projectile-based platformer. It has no grand sweeping narrative, no light and dark mechanic, no time travel, and no gravity flipping. It is not a window into the human condition, nor is it a commentary on the difficulty of old-school classics, and its tone is far from dark and moody. It is simply a platformer.

On the other hand, the game offers quite a bit of variety within the confines of basic platformerdom, as well as multiple design styles – ranging from old-school to bubblegummy to slightly twisted – while not forcing the game into any of these styles (quite the opposite, actually), and simultaneously retaining a cohesive overall tone.

As a platformer, Chester retains most of the genre conventions and mechanics. The player is able to run, jump, double jump, wall slide, wall jump, and swim. In his default form, Chester can fire off a series of blue projectiles that move in a straight line, and up to 3 of the projectiles can be on the screen at once. The character animations are exaggerated and silly, and firing your weapon is reminiscent of the overblown tone found in Alien Hominid.

And if that’s all there was, Chester would stand as little more than a basic platformer. However, once you begin to explore the unlockables, a number of new possibilities open up. By collecting the stamps spread throughout each level, or by exploring tucked away corners for special pickups, players can unlock new characters. Each of these characters has a different design, and each offers a slight variation on the mechanics of the default character. This is the starting point for many of the game’s nuances.

It has become fashionable for indie developers to borrow each other’s characters to use as unlockables in their own games, with such characters as CommanderVideo and Meat Boy making guest appearances. Here, however, each of the unlockable characters is an original design from Brilliant Blue-G, and each is a variation on the design of Chester. As such, they appear almost as an alternate universe version of the original, ranging from the pompous-looking Chesterworth III to a feral screaming thing called Chegami that looks a critter that fell out of The Maxx. There’s also a guy with a mustache and overalls named Chesty who tosses around bouncing fireballs, similarly to Fire Mario.

Use of these unlockable characters is completely optional, but some characters have distinct advantages in certain situations. For instance, some characters fall more slowly than others, making them better for long jumps and precision platforming. Some characters have projectiles that fire straight across the screen which is good for hitting targets at a distance, while others have bouncing projectiles that are better in confined spaces. Each character also has a limited-use special attack, ranging from the ability to slow down time to a barrage of projectiles to a spinning shield.

What’s more, each character is capable of leveling up, making for minor alterations and enhancements to their abilities. So, if you keep using a particular character, you will eventually gain enhancements like increased damage against enemies, bouncing projectiles, and better special attacks. The character select interface shows the silhouettes for each of the characters that you haven’t yet unlocked. And yes, there are a couple of characters in there that are vastly different from the rest and offer completely new (though not always useful) gameplay. We’ll let you discover those on your own, but one of them is hinted at pretty regularly throughout your journey, as you collect pieces of the “Sweet Ship”.

The second type of unlockable comes in the form of styles, which mostly offer only cosmetic differences, although some styles do allow you to get a better view of enemies, and some environmental effects like fog are reduced depending on the style you’re using. Each level has a default theme, but you can manually change it to any other type that you’ve unlocked. These themes vary drastically, offering natural styles, blueprint and notebook sketch styles, and old school pixelated styles that give the game the appearance of an 8-bit console game and even an LCD-based handheld. The LCD style fits well with the unlockable character who looks and functions suspiciously like Mr. Game & Watch, including projectiles that move across the screen one block at a time.

In keeping with its straightforward platforming sensibilities, Chester offers lots of colorful environments filled with moving platforms, conveyor belts, spikes, water, and loads of cute things trying to kill you. Cutesy environmental effects include clouds shaped like ice cream sundaes, and levels filled with candy and marshmallow platforms.

Many levels have alternate paths to get through to the end, allowing for some exploration, and giving you extra ground to cover if you’re looking for one of the hidden styles or ship pieces. Some of the hiding places are quite difficult to locate, but you do get an indicator on the world map showing you which levels still have hidden items remaining to be collected, so you can at least limit the repeat playthroughs if you’re hunting for secrets.

While you do have a life bar, there are plenty of insta-death bottomless pits spread throughout the world, and some of the character movements can make it difficult to line up platform landings. This is balanced somewhat by the fact that most levels include a mid-level checkpoint, and any stamps you collected are retained if you die or restart the level. One other control quirk comes in the way that wall jumps are handled. As long as you are standing next to a wall (not necessarily clinging to it), performing a regular jump will cause you to wall jump. This can lead to instances where the player accidentally wall jumps simply because he was standing too close to a vertical edge. Oddly, players can triangle jump by simply holding down the button rather than repeatedly jumping when making contact with a wall. This certainly speeds vertical ascents, but these controls are contrary to our platforming heritage. Also, dropping down through a platform is accomplished by double-tapping DOWN on the left stick, rather than the traditional DOWN + JUMP control scheme.

There are a few other issues which mar the platforming experience somewhat. For one, there are a few collision problems that will occasionally cause you to drop out of the bottom of platforms, thus falling off the bottom of the screen and killing you. An updated release of the game fixed many of these issues, but some yet remain. Secondly, some moving platforms do not reset, so if you ride them to their destination and fall, there is no way to get back up to them, which usually means that you’ll need to restart the level. Finally, this is one of those games where enemies respawn when scrolled off the screen. This generally isn’t an issue with a game that focuses on linear progression, but the design is contrary to the somewhat explorative nature of the levels, particularly if you’re hunting for hidden objects.

The game feature 21 levels, as well as numerous unlockable characters and styles, and 4 difficulty settings. It should be noted that this article covers version 1.01 of the game, which offers some changes from the original release, as well as the promise of additional enhancements to future versions.

Brilliant Blue-G is a one-man studio run by Benn Friedrich. Chester was his first game.