Free the Floopians: Level Mania
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other indie games developers based in South Africa, and so Canvas software are certainly helping to blaze a trail in that respect. Their premiere title “Free the Floopians: Level Mania” is a light-hearted puzzle/platformer. The game is a linear, story driven adventure, and interestingly it is available to buy in episodes (1 to 3) as well as in a full game all-episode bundle pack at a reduced price. The demo acts as a platform for the rest of the episodes to play off, and is therefore a required download for all customers, regardless of which option they choose.
The evil Robo Lord has imprisoned many Floopians all through the secret underground cave network and our hero, Fled, must free them. Fled runs and jumps though a somewhat 3-D environment, solves puzzles and manipulates switches to free the imprisoned Floopians on each level and then needs to get to the exit within a stipulated time limit.
The environments are indeed modelled in 3-D, yet the path that Fled must follow through each level is quite linear. Waste time by doing things out of order, for example, and you’ll most probably run out of time and have to start the level over. There does not seem to be much scope for experimentation by the player (in terms of multiple ways to complete a mission), and very little strategy (perhaps none at all) is needed to progress through the levels. Some of the puzzles are tricky though, and a little bit of thought will come in handy to determine the correct order of actions required.
The first couple of tries on each level will be basically a trial run so that you can locate levers and buttons and plan your optimal path. After that, a third or fourth run through the level will give you a time to beat, with subsequent runs being simply a matter of shaving seconds off your time, and collecting bonus points.
There are obstacles to contend with such as flame throwers, remotely operated boom gates, floating platforms and so on. Skill in action games like Super Mario Brothers will come in handy. Rather disappointingly, there’s little that you haven’t seen before in other games in this genre, and not much to set the game apart from the competition in terms of gameplay. One feature that I did enjoy was a giant sliding block puzzle at the end of a level, where a jumbled picture had to be re-arranged in order to allow progress to the exit. What I saw of the level design failed to really inspire a desire to keep playing. For example, making the player jump on over 30 sinking platforms in a row, with one narrow miss meaning going right back to the start of the section, is just an exercise in frustration. I don’t want to sound too brutal, I honestly found the gameplay a bit too tedious and repetitious.
Controls are extremely simple: just use the arrow keys to move around, and use your J key to jump. Alternatively, plug in your favourite gamepad and mash away. My generic USB game controller worked fine.
The best thing that Floopians has got going for it by far and away is the creative talent on show. The graphics are very pleasing to the eye, models animate fluidly, textures are clean and detailed, and sound effects are well done. The interface is logically navigated, there’s a helpful 3-D map view, and options to configure the game to run at various display resolutions as well.
I doubt whether Floopians will be a huge success for Canvas, for a couple of reasons. The game is too simple in terms of concept to draw in any but the most casual gamers. The gameplay is too linear, offering no meaningful choices for players to feel like they are in control of the storyline, and by the nature of said style, replay value is severely limited. Having said that, the full version offers 75 levels to test the player, and there would be at least a good few hours of content there. I can really only recommend Floopians to die-hard platformer fans and perhaps as a game to keep the kids happy, and even then with some hesitation.
I should also add, in fairness to the developers, that this review has been written on the strength of the demo version alone. A couple of attempts were made to contact Canvas, but unfortunately no replies were received.
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