To Hell with Johnny
It's late at night, and Johnny Quarterback is going out to celebrate with his girlfriend, Brianne. Their car breaks down. There's a terrible storm. Fortunately the two of them find shelter in an old abandoned church. And what happens when two teenagers end up alone together in a remote location, their clothes cold and wet, with nothing to do for a few hours? That's right - a giant, demonic hand bursts up from Hell, grabs the screaming girl and sends Johnny, the church and all plummeting to the centre of the earth. Sorry, were you expecting something else?
To Hell With Johnny, which would win the prize for 2010's Most Ironic Game Title if I actually offered one, sees Johnny falling ever deeper into the earth, hopefully to get the girl and save both their lives. Falling such a long way is, of course, a fatal endeavour - if Johnny falls too far (that is, off the bottom of the screen), he's dead. If he isn't fast enough, the tumbling debris just behind him will kill him equally well. And so he must fall, from platform to platform, through ever more difficult stages.
Those platforms are not friendly. While many are safe enough for a while, others are not. Some hide traps. Some will crumble underfoot. Some are just horribly small. There are bouncy ones that will jump him up again, the only way he can actually reach higher platforms than his current position. And there are lots of enemies too. Contact with these, or with traps, will sap Johnny's lifeforce. If that runs out... yep, dead again. Dying is very common in this game, but Hell is always delighted to bring him back for more punishment.
Your fall through the earth may also see you encountering various items. Some of these are good, like the protective bubble or the first aid kit. Most of them boost your score (the green stars, in particular, also act as survival score multipliers). Some items are nasty, such as the toxic waste that will slowly drain your health for a while. In an evil twist, these are worth a lot of points. If you're good, and you're aiming for a high score, you'll find this tempting. You also score points for landing on platforms - more points the smaller the platform - and just plain ol' surviving. If you land on sufficient platforms without mishap, you'll gain multipliers - scoring you points all the faster. And points mean... well, just high scores really. But still!
Cartoon sprites are the order of the day, and they're fairly simple - but this works well. Though I'm not entirely clear why Johnny needs to keep thrusting his hips even whilst in mortal peril! I have to award points to Michi for the wealth of graphics options - even those with sight difficulties are catered for with a host of high-contrast and other accessibility modes. Some other graphics modes are very strange. The different stages all have their own themes, though items are not always easy to distinguish. In many cases, this is intentional. Sound effects are varied enough and work very well, and music varies on each stage.
The accessibility options aren't just confined to the graphics. Johnny can be controlled with keyboard, joystick or even mouse, and you can turn on speech for all the options that reads out the names of the buttons you hover over. There are four difficulty modes - if you play on Very Easy or Very Hard, you don't control Johnny at all - you guide Brianne! You can resume from any stage you have previously unlocked (these are stored separately for each difficulty level) and there are other controls that can tweak your game too. I haven't explored all the settings, which would take some considerable time!
Superficially very simple, there's a lot more to this game than first appears. One of these is guaranteed to keep some players coming back - Award Stars are granted for a number of in-game actions. You won't actually know what any of these are until you earn your first, and I won't give them away here, but suffice to say that some demonstrate skill, some demonstrate persistence and some demonstrate a certain perversity in which you gain awards for how much Johnny/Brianne suffer. When you see how close you are to performing X actions on something, it's even harder to resist that "one more game". It's even working on me, and I should be immune by now.
While the game is very simple in concept, it is clear that every effort has been made to make it as good as it can be. You can even adjust individual settings so that monsters, traps and so on are easier (or harder!), or adjust the game speed, etc etc. High scores are stored both locally and globally, and the global scores will only allow one, best score from each player (as you can have five profiles per copy, this means a maximum of five scores on the global list from any one player). This is a neat touch! The only thing I can really mark against THWJ is the random nature of it - sometimes a run through is too difficult simply because things are generated that way - and even then I never found myself completely stuck, just unable to reach that next platform in time.
One possible interpretation of Hell is that we spend eternity doomed to repeat our actions, over and over, returning to the beginning every time we fail. This is more or less exactly what we're doing here, but somehow it's more fun than Hell has a right to be. So to Hell with Johnny! We'll be falling right alongside him.
Keywords: to hell with johnny review, michi.nu reviews, michi.nu games, to hell with johnny scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.