Friday, December 9, 2016

Super Lovely Planet - The Controls and Platforming

In its platforming, Super Lovely Planet is more Castlevania than Mario. If there was one thing unique about this game that sets it apart from other games in the same genre, it’s that it takes inspiration from the kind of 80’s 2D platformer that got mixed reviews on its controls. Think Ghouls ‘n’ Goblins and Castlevania instead of Mario or Kirby.

The controls are quite straightforward but also very demanding for players who are accustomed to modern 3D action adventure games. The left and right analog sticks are mapped one to one with the movement of the character and camera respectively. The game doesn’t automate the camera at all. The jumping action is mapped to the right trigger so your thumbs never leave the joysticks. You can squeeze the trigger once for a single jump or hold it down if you want to continue jumping. NPC interactions and the optional attack button is set to the face buttons “A” on Xbox and “X” on Playstation. We’ll talk about those functions in another post, right now I just want to focus on the platforming alone.

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Retrovania.net

Plenty of very specific design choices bring a unique twist to the gameplay, and now's when the Castlevania influence starts to show. Loads of gravity keeps you grounded. Instead of altitude the jump gives you more speed, pushing you forward almost twice as fast than if you’re simply crawling. There’s absolutely no mid-air control so you’re going to commit to the direction and speed of the jump for the time you spend off ground. Other mechanics are tuned to complement the jump to give it new meaning and purpose. If players want to move faster, reposition quickly or dodge enemy fire, they are left with no choice but to resort to the jump button and that makes for the most quintessential risk-reward action that lies at the center of the platforming experience on offer in this game.
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Crawling

The challenge here lies in trying to strike the right balance between taking your time to carefully plan a flawless jump and moving more quickly. Nobody wants to call in a committee of advisers to give them a green-light before they can press the jump button. This combination of mechanics should see players balancing on a tightrope of temptation and patience. A balance is struck by multiplexing between two mutually exclusive states that grant control and award the player with more speed. The challenge is overcome when they are able to gracefully transition between the two states so as to create a sort of ebb and flow where the right amount of control is borrowed from crawling which pays off in a short burst of quick jumps. That balance allows players to carefully measure their movement and align jumps before approaching them in advance without having to forfeit too much of their speed in the process.

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Jumping

The jump is consistent across the whole game so players eventually internalize its length and height. That’s when every successful leap onto an enemy and over a trap becomes just that little bit more rewarding. And before diminishing returns can set in, the game unfolds to present a new layer of play to master. Once players are comfortable with pacing single jumps, they’re encouraged to string them together for more speed and efficiency. Finding optimal routes through levels by chaining successive jumps to make it flawlessly across a section of the map without needing to crawl for too long will require a good grasp not only on the jump itself but the layout of the level as well. A kind of ballet if you will.


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Baddie, bullet, pickup and red blobs of death

I feel that’s plenty of depth on offer. Other mechanics including enemies and pickups work to complement this core platforming experience.
We’ll talk more about those in the next post.