By Marisa Alexander / August 25th, 2017
|Developer||Grave Danger Games|
|Release Date||July 18th, 2017|
|Genre||Action, Runner, Indie|
|Age Rating||None provided|
With the upsurge of studios creating highly difficult games, a question must be asked: what truly constitutes difficulty? For many, a difficult game means highly punishing gameplay where you die a lot. Others think it is where you struggle for a long time inching your way through a level. Personally, I think difficulty is outside of the boundaries of death. It is not how many times one dies in a level, but rather how a challenge is structured. There are some games one would lose a lot of lives in, but it is hard to say they are difficult. This is where the philosophy of trial and error stems from. You try again until you succeed. I hardly believe this constitutes difficulty and instead is simply a learning experience of a game’s mechanics. This is where AFTERGRINDER comes into play.
Developed by Grave Danger Games, the game purports to be a fast and highly punishing runner. There is no true background for the game’s setting, where all you need to do is pick a level and play. There are ninety levels in total, spread across three worlds. For the most part, the game is about proper timing rather than quick reaction speeds. In each level, there are three stars one can collect by moving into them simply for achievement purposes. There are three characters to pick from: the default is the lady, the dude who is slower, and the shark who is the fastest. One can boost to go faster and switch gravity, similar to VVVVVV.
In the game proper, there are a variety of obstacles to watch out for: barriers one must boost through, switches to open barriers, and so on. At first the game slowly introduces these challenges then combines them steadily. However, these obstacles feel the same as they are all about timing in the end. As an example, there are bots later on where you have to boost to get ahead. Ultimately, they are the same challenge as that of the breakable barriers combined with walls one must duck under. There are also areas that reverse your controls, but they feel inconsequential as it’s easy to readjust. The only obstacles that actually diversifies themselves are the off-screen lasers. For these lasers, sometimes it is best to speed right past, other times it is about timing, or even slowing down to avoid them altogether. Sadly, that is the extent of the variety given.
However, the game is not all about bringing variety; it’s about the difficulty. Yet, for an intermediate gamer like myself, it’s challenging but not hard. Yes, one will die a whole lot, yet recall the philosophy I have. When you die, you are given the death counter then thrust right back into the level. As such, one doesn’t feel completely defeated for dying and establishes a try again mentality. For me, since the game is more about trial and error, it didn’t feel hard.
However, the game can get frustrating for the wrong reasons. This is mainly due to poor hitbox mapping. There are times the game will register a death despite the hoverboard clearly being level with the foreground. There was even a time I died by a laser despite the laser having dissipated completely. It doesn’t help that the game’s difficulty curve is schizophrenic. At times there are a slew of easy levels then a hard level, or a slew of moderate levels then an easy level. The game has a difficult time in establishing a difficulty curve. World one also feels like the hardest out of the three, with world two being the easiest.
In terms of presentation, the game is rather simple all around. The characters pop right out with their vibrant color, in contrast to the dull and monotone background and foreground. While it is good that the player character and obstacles pop, the boring background makes the game feel rather drab. Sound design could use a touch-up also. Many sound effects such as the death noise, or even selecting anything from the menu, sound rather irritating to the ears. The start-up screens provide this harsh scratching noise that is akin to high-pitched chalk to a chalkboard. Explosions don’t sound like actual explosions, due to the lack of a noticeable crunch or bang. Explosions sound like a pop instead. For the soundtrack, the game is outright forgettable in this regard. There is simply no substance to the game’s techno. It feels more like noise with a melody rather than music. At best, I can remember the first five seconds of the title screen.
In the end, AFTERGRINDER lacks any sort of bite. The game is clearly a challenge but lacks any sort of incentive to keep you playing. I believe there is a misunderstanding with developers who want to make difficult games. I fear many developers think that people like difficult games just because they are difficult. While it may be true some gamers are like that, the games with the most staying power are the ones that are also visually interesting and unique. Challenge and having a good art style are not separate, after all. To be fair, the game’s $10 price tag is not so bad. With ninety levels worth of content it is not a bad price, even for a two-hour adventure. There just needs to be more substance to the overall package.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
ActionAFTERGRINDERGrave Danger GamesIndieMeridian4PCRunner