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Friday Night Bytes: Binary Boy

I don't know if this'll be a regular thing, so maybe I shouldn't kick it off with a column title, but it's a Friday, it's nighttime, and I played a short free game that I want to tell you about. So, Friday Night Bytes. Okay? Okay. Here we go.

I got an e-mail yesterday from Jared Johnson of Data-Fidelity, asking me to check out his new game Binary Boy. I'm glad that I did! It's short, it's fun, and it's got a solid concept with a lot of room for future expansion. Let's start with a trailer.

Jared cites VVVVVV and Proun as his influences, and you might remember that I liked both of those games a lot, so I was excited to dig into Binary Boy and see what he'd taken from them.

The answer is, a surprising amount for such a small game. Like VVVVVV, Binary Boy is a two-state platformer (I think I just made up a term), in that your character controls his horizontal movement and his vertical orientation, but nothing else. You're either pointing up, or you're pointing down. Unlike VVVVVV (but exactly like Proun), you are anchored to a line that traverses the level, along which obstacles attempt to thwart your forward progression. There's no fail state; hitting any obstacle or being pushed off the line bounces you back to a checkpoint, which are placed very generously. Your goal (again, like Proun) is to complete the levels as quickly and gracefully as possible. Jared claims his best time is around six and a half minutes; I managed to do it in something closer to twelve minutes. Regardless, we're not talking about a big time commitment.

Things that impressed me:

  • The aesthetic is nice and clean, with some great touches for being an intentionally low-fi project. Little animations abound, and add a lot of character to the world.
  • Though resolutely 2D in gameplay (and, I think, technically), it mimics depth nicely, with objects swinging into the foreground and receding into the background.
  • Each level feels distinct, with a new trick to learn in each area (with the exception of the final level, which offers a visual change but not a gameplay one).
  • I didn't expect the game to have boss battles, but it does, and they're not bad given the limited mechanics at play.
  • The generous checkpointing means that failure (almost) never costs you more than a few seconds of gameplay, which makes the trial-and-error nature of some of the sections much more palatable.

Things that made me go "hrm":

  • The hit detection seems... off, sometimes. It's not bad, but for a game where essentially the only challenge is "don't get hit by things," it could use some tightening.
  • Because the checkpoints re-set you, but not the state of the world, the timing of the puzzle you're about to face doesn't stay static from one attempt to the next. I hit one frustrating section that I was trying to do some fancy flipping to get through, and eventually the timing worked out such that I just walked through it without flipping at all. Maybe that's deliberate, but I doubt it.
  • I hit one nasty bug (which I e-mailed Jared about, and to his credit he says he has fixed) where pausing the game removed the boss I was fighting from the game world, rendering the game unbeatable. Short game, so not a deal breaker, but it did happen.
  • The very last section of the game (by which I mean literally the last 60 seconds of gameplay, if that) feels frustrating and arbitrary. I e-mailed Jared about that too, and he said he'll take my feedback into account. I should mention here that Jared is very responsive to feedback.

On the whole, I'd like to see a little more done with this concept than is presented here - the levels are so short that just as soon as you've had a chance to say "oh, neat!" it's over and you're on to the next thing. Stuff like working an "attack" into your flip ability and using a rising / falling water level to provide platforming puzzles are really good ideas, but could be built out a lot more. The inspirations here are clear, but the experience is so short that it never quite hits the "oh WOW" moments of VVVVVV.

But this is a free game, and also an early effort from a young and promising designer. If you've got some time and you like trying out new takes on the platforming genre as much as I do, I strongly recommend giving it a look.

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