Squirm

A game by Alex Carpenter for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2018.
Squirm is a lo-fi platformer with light metroidvania elements. You take on the role of a fellow with a rat for a friend. One day, after awakening from a nap, you notice that your rat friend has disappeared, and an odd-looking Samaritan informs you that he has gone to see the “big dude”, and asks why you haven’t done the same. And so you set off on your adventure into the dangerous world of Squimlia, which is filled with unusual enemies and lots of spikes, along with a number of oddball – and occasionally foul-mouthed – NPC’s who add a bit of flavor to the experience.


The game consists mostly of interconnected single-screen environments, and the player is killed instantly when touching any dangerous obstacle or enemy. However, upon death, he is respawned to the room’s entrance, and all of his progress remains intact… killed enemies remain killed, and destructible objects are still destroyed (although a quick reset option lets the player restore the room to its original state if needed). This makes death frequent, but the penalty for dying is quite low.


At the start of the game, you have a very high variable jump and an awkward 2-frame running animation, which are your only tools to deal with any enemies or obstacles you encounter. As such, you need to rely on your platforming abilities in the opening are to avoid patrolling enemies and to cross wide expanses of spikes. From the outset, you are expected to execute a lot of precision jumps on small platforms with only a small margin for error.


For the most part, levels are linear, as you enter the screen from the left and exit to the right, but there are occasionally some side paths that lead to optional pickups and rewards. There are stars to be found hidden around the game world, and the player is free to backtrack to any previous area if he wishes to explore further… and there is also a fast travel option for warping between designated areas. However, backtracking is not require to make narrative progress in the game, which can be completed in a single sitting.


At the end of the first area, the player encounters a hub with several branching paths. However, with his default abilities, there is only one path forward. Eventually, the player gains a couple of new abilities that allow him to move in other directions. Completing levels and defeating bosses grants him keys (six in all) that can be used to open physical blockades as well.


Bosses are fairly simple in terms of design and behaviors, but they can still be challenging to defeat given the player’s 1-hit kills. In general, they have lengthy life bars that are worn down by a steady stream of bullets, although a couple of them require somewhat more advanced tactics. In fact, the player actually encounters the first boss before he has a weapon, and so he must walk past the boss and into the next room where he finds a gun that allows him to come back, defeat the boss, and grab the key that lets him get into the next room.


The gun can be fired as quickly as the player can press the trigger, but most of the game’s challenge – outside of boss encounters – relies very little on weapon use. Most challenges center around platforming and dodging obstacles, and many enemies are immune to your firepower.


Later, you gain the ability to double-jump, which lets you explore another path and reach a new area that requires double jumping in order to move forward. So, while the world is open, the player is generally shuttled down the one path that will move him forward, and locked doors gate progress until the proper keys are collected.


The opening area is a greyscale environment with rocks, steel beams, and the occasional trampoline block, and the level takes place in the rain. In a nice touch, raindrops are interrupted by solid objects, so the player can walk under overhangs or enter caves to get out of the rain. In this area, the contrast occasionally makes it difficult to separate foreground and background elements, but this issue does not persist into the rest of the experience.


The player then moves into an underworld area called Spookileum, which has a purple hue. The player can only see a short distance around him, and platforms do not appear until he gets close to him, so sometimes the player figures out where to go next by dying (again, with a minimal penalty). In this area, invincible ghosts slowly move toward the player, skeleton warriors toss bones, and flying skeletal birds drop bones from above.


There are also some enemies that only move when you do, and they hone in on your position, but moving quickly makes them accelerate to the point where they are inescapable, so you need to move, stop, and move again. The bottom of this area is made up of shadowy hands that reach up from below, acting as a bottomless pit.


The next area is blue and themed to snow and ice. This are features more puzzle-platforming elements, as the player is required to push ice blocks in order to make stepping stones to avoid ice spikes or to reach higher platforms (and it’s one of the few areas where the player might need to make use of the “reset room” option). Ice is not just slippery, it also allows the player to continue accelerating to incredible speeds, allowing him to cross large pits of spikes. Here, the player dodges huge heads that move toward him very quickly, as well as falling ice stalactites, and he must ride air currents to reach higher platforms… sometimes moving across multiple air currents between rows of spikes.


In this level, the player encounters a bean who yells “Eat me!” to the player, and the bean continues sputtering exclamations to coax the player into eating him. Eating the bean allows the player to fart on command and leads to a humorous encounter later in the game. Also, the boss encounter in this area takes place on a sled, with the player moving back and forth along the ground, tossing penguins up at the boss.


Later areas have bricks that can be destroyed strategically to use as platforms, some new lasers and fast-moving projectiles that are difficult to avoid, a jetpack challenge, and eventually some larger levels that where the screen scrolls left or right when you move. There are also some sequences late in the game where the player flips the room upside-down and must try to navigate with reversed controls. All of this eventually leads to a series of challenges at the end of the game where the player must use every trick he has learned along the way.


Early on, you encounter an optional challenge area that appears as a wrapped gift. Entering it takes you to a series of platforming challenges where you have only your standard jump and no gun. Here, you must hop over spikes, use trampoline blocks, avoid falling donuts and rolling chocolate chip cookies, pass through Portal-sque warp points, and get past crazed disco-ghosts before fighting a monster in the shape of a present. Completing this series of challenges grants you a party hat that changes colors from one room to the next.


One odd note about navigating between single screen environments is that your momentum does not carry over from one room to the next; instead, you just spawn in the next room near the entrance. This makes some vertical challenges easier, as all you need to do is touch the edge of the screen to pass into the next room. However, it can also be a hindrance as you attempt to jump and land on a platform in the next room, only to warp instantly and find yourself standing still, and continuing to press the button causes you to walk off a ledge and fall down again. It’s a minor hindrance that does not have a major impact on gameplay.


Aesthetically, the game offers a very limited color scheme, with white characters and enemies, solid-colored backgrounds, and only a few shades of color in each of the themed areas. However, levels are interesting and varied, and effects like rain, snow, rising embers, and limited visibility add a lot of character to the environments. In addition, the game offers an optional CRT monitor filter with curved edges and scanlines.



2D CRED
Squirm was developed by Alex Carpenter who previously as a level designer on Electronic Super Joy.


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