By Guy Rainey / September 17th, 2014
Tinertia is a game in Early Access on Steam. It’s a hardcore platformer without a Jump button. It’s an unusual and somewhat counter-intuitive idea, since every platformer since Pitfall and Super Mario Bros. has used a Jump button. Is this a game you should be watching, or should you look elsewhere?
The first thing you may be thinking is, “A platformer without a jump button? How does that work?” Well, instead of pressing a jump button, you’ll be firing a rocket with the second control stick (if you are playing with a controller; I played with an Xbox controller, and I can’t imagine this working any other way). When the rocket hits a surface, the resulting explosion will propel you away. It’s a novel idea, and when you first hear it, you think “Huh, can that work?”
Well, for the first few levels, it seems like it might. The developers are keenly aware that this is a brand new way to play, at least for a 2D platformer. Old concepts need to be reintroduced. The first five levels are all about teaching the player how to use this new tool at their disposal.
From Level 1, you’ll find that platforming with these mechanics is a slow, methodical science. You’ve got 360 degrees of possibilities here, so one wrong move, and you’re toast. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a little odd that you are given such a short time target under these restrictions. Come Level 6, some odd design choices start to appear. Wall jumping becomes much more prominent. All these screenshots take place in that level, and I’ll try to explain what’s going on.
This is the beginning of the level, where you’re either supposed to master or have mastered wall jumping with this new mechanic. So, you get this, a wall that you can’t just scale, since there’s an instant death trap half way up. Here’s where things start to fall apart. It is very easy to either A) shoot yourself into barely touching the death trap (instant death), or B) end up exactly where I am in this screenshot. There is nothing you can do there, since anywhere your rocket’s explosion will not propel you anywhere.
If you get through that, you’ll face these platforms. These platforms explode when you shoot them, so you’d better aim just right. You won’t; not every time, at least, and failure will result in a restart, so you’ll need to go through that problematic wall jumping segment again.
Your reward for getting, though? Another problematic wall jumping section, this time with two instant kill areas. This is when you start to wish for some checkpoints, so that you could go right back to the challenge you lost at, rather than having to go through the same challenges again. And, to be fair, it could still be possible to add checkpoints somewhere down the road.
You play a few more levels with some good ideas and more bad ones. Then you reach the boss. This cements it: the developers really don’t understand their own mechanic. The boss level forces you to wall jump quickly. I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to finish this one. I haven’t learned how to move as quickly as the boss demands. I am told that the developers were able to play much faster when they were demoing the game at PAX. The problem is, when a developer thinks the challenge is just about right, it’s probably WAY too hard, since devs know everything this game is supposed to do. The problem is the developers have imposed the challenge of a traditional platformer onto a mechanic that simply isn’t built for it.
Compare the boss to this screen. Look at that: it’s an interesting traversal puzzle without pressure. That’s what Tinertia should have been: a slow, methodical puzzle platformer. That would have been a unique, innovative idea.
Ultimately, Tinertia just isn’t the game its own mechanics demand it to be. I really can’t see how the game could be salvaged at this point, since a lot of the level design seems to be done already. I hope the failure of this game doesn’t sink or discourage the developers, because if they can take this same concept, and build it into the puzzle platformer it should have been, it could be a terrific game.