Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds
It seemed a harmless enough invention. A little piece of semi-sentient goo, with the ability to eat anything smaller than itself and grow larger in the process - perhaps something that could be used to kill bacteria, or clear up toxic waste. Perhaps, if its inventor had stored it somewhere more secure, nothing would ever have happened. But no - his young (and somewhat brainless) lab assistant decided the poor thing looked hungry, and gave it some sweets. And it grew... first eating sweets, then laboratory mice, then lab equipment... and ultimately their latest invention - the time machine! With a hiccup, the creature disappeared into time...
Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds is a second course for the original Tasty Planet, and operates in much the same fashion. You control a blob of grey goo with eyes, and guide it around a top-down world filled with objects. At first you'll be eating small items - sweets, rice grains, even bacteria - but everything you eat increases your goo's size. As it gets larger, you'll be able to eat bigger things. Virtually everything can be eaten if you are large enough! Before long that rice-eating lump of putty will be eating buildings and consuming forests. The main difference with Back for Seconds is the time machine - you'll visit a series of time zones, and your goo's size is reset every time it jumps.
Your goo is controlled by either mouse or keyboard. I took a while to get used to the mouse control but once I did I found it much more responsive than the keyboard (though I did often run out of desk!). There is a two player option, but here both players are forced to use keyboard controls. The instructions are very simple - simply move with the arrow keys or mouse. There are no other buttons - just move into things to (try to) eat them. Beware of trying to eat something too big for you - some things you'll just bounce off, while others can hurt you, causing you to lose size. There are two main game modes - a time trial version, in which you must complete each level within the time limit, and a casual mode where you can take as long as you wish.
Graphics are cartoon, which is probably necessary (eating people and animals would be horrific rather than fun otherwise!). I particularly liked the eyes on the bacteria in the future zone, making them look a little goofy. The goo itself is surprisingly cute, and changes colour to match the things it eats. At the closer zoom levels it can be a little tricky to see where you're going, but otherwise the zoom method is very clever - you're confined to a small area until you hit a certain size, at which point the "camera" pulls back to reveal the world you were inhabiting is just a tabletop in a lab, or a puddle in a field. Then you eat some more, and it pulls out further, and your world shrinks once more. The most extreme example of this is definitely the final level, in which you go from eating bacteria to eating galaxies... and beyond. The smallest items disappear as you zoom out, but so what? Why keep eating rice grains when you can eat trees?
The sound is also a wonderful repast. A range of cheerful pieces accompanies the game, as well as a range of "eating" effects (different for the various items you eat). There is some variation here - several screams can be heard as humans meet their grey, gooey death, and animals also offer a range of noises. Thrown in with all this are the occasional "yummy!" comments from the goo itself! It's no gourmand - everything tastes good, even ants and (ugh!) olives. As the clock hits the final seconds, you can hear an ominous ticking. You can play without sound, but you're losing a lot of the charm if you do.
Tasty Planet is very easy to play. The controls are simple, and there's even a helpful indicator towards the largest thing you can eat in the immediate vicinity. Players looking to get the hang of the controls or simply wanting to enjoy eating the world (and who doesn't?) can play the time-free casual mode, and players out to play the "proper" game can do so with time limits. Complete the main game, and you open up the bonus levels - more fun with different themes, or revisiting old levels with new features to make them tougher. If you want a crack at these, you'll need to do well in the main game - each timed level has three bonus times representing gold, silver and bronze, and the number of levels you've beaten in those times limits what bonus modes are unlocked.
When I first played through, I found Tasty Planet to be almost too easy. I struggled on a couple of levels - the Bone Maze in particular was unappetising - but managed to reach the end. But the bonus levels require a much greater level of effort - it's not enough to simply beat the level if you want to see everything. And purists, sure they can beat their previous times, will want to replay as well. Also available is the gallery - an area where you can see all the objects you've eaten (and how many of each). As these are cumulative, I have now eaten several Earths.
The ingredients in Tasty Planet work very well together and I've found very little to fault. Some of the bonus levels are a little unfair - in one, for instance, you are to eat all the laboratory rats before the cats get them. I'm not convinced it is actually possible to do so. There's a massive speed difference in your goo between the closest zoom and the next one out, so after running out of desk with the mouse you suddenly find you're whizzing round in circles trying to get that one small item, or possibly running into trouble. I suspect it is difficult to make this work well, but perhaps a little tweaking would help to get the feel right. I also suspect this game would play better with a trackball than an actual mouse unless you have an enormous desk!
Tasty Planet is definitely deserving of this Bytten Gold Star. Massive destruction set to cheerful music, it's cute, yet allows me to achieve my dream of destroying the world. It's suitable for an aperitif if you just have a few minutes available, or you can gorge yourself on it. Be warned - once you start, it's hard to stop playing!
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