Overall Score 65%
Edgeland: Trials of a lost circling
What do you call a polar bear in the desert? Lost. Similarly, one could probably say the same about our lone circle in Edgeland, which is similarly baffling. Given that the way back to Circlia and safety involves crossing 32 levels of sharp, pointy death, however did it end up there in the first place? If there's a plot behind this (dastardly or otherwise), the developers have neglected to mention it. Basically, you're responsible for getting this circle home.
Your aim is simple enough - you start at one point on the map, and have to find a route to the exit. I say "a" route, not "the" route, because there's often more than one way. Along the way there are pies to eat (er... don't ask) and all manner of deadly obstacles, such as spikes (instant death), pointy enemies (three hits from these mean death), collapsing floors (not deadly, but often positioned above deadly spikes) and... actually, that's it so far. There may well be more. I haven't been able to get to them, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of death ahead. A helpful counter on the level select screen shows your progress (for me, about 9%) and death count (110 as I write this). You have no life counter here - which is good, as you will die a LOT.
Controls are entirely keyboard, so feel free to retire the mouse to a cage somewhere with plenty of cheese. You move your circle with the arrow keys, with left/right doing the obvious thing and up making him jump. If you are lucky enough to find any powerup items, the Z and X keys activate them. The shield is rather fun, but alas only useful against enemies. The ubiquitous spikes are unimpeded by it. There's a weapon of some kind, but I've not yet encountered it and cannot comment on it.
Edgeland cracks along at enormous speed, no doubt helped by the low impact graphics and sound (I'll come onto those shortly), and with a steep hill and a bit of momentum your circle can really zip along. Fans of "Sonic the Hedgehog" will know the kind of velocities I'm talking about. The problem is, Sonic wasn't in danger of colliding with an instantly lethal landscape at any moment. High speed here is sometimes necessary, but usually fatal. Your jumps are difficult to control and that momentum is very hard to slow down again - a good proportion of my 110 deaths are due to skidding off the edge of a small platform and falling into spikes. Later levels include ice, just in case this effect wasn't severe enough for you. Basically, this is a very difficult game, even if you try to take it slow. And sometimes because you're taking it slow.
I don't think Edgeland is going to win any awards for groundbreaking graphics. It's a fairly retro style, with everything a fairly obvious grid (even the slopes are all at 45 degrees) and it all looks a bit stark, with a lack of bright colours or interesting backgrounds. The rapid scrolling of the foreground patterns during high speed runs gave me slight motion sickness, so I dread to think what more sensitive players will experience. It would be cruel, however, to say that any physical reaction might add colour to the display! Most baffling is why, when my circle dies, he turns into what appears to be a bag of sugar. I think it might be meant to be a gravestone.
Sound is also retro, fitting in well with the graphical theme. The music is a touch weird, in keeping with the alien landscapes, and the pitch bending in the melody may be the musician's interpretation of the motion sickness. I don't know. I do know that there seems to be just one background track from menu until switch off, and it loops round and round and round... as I watch my circle plunge to his death for (over) the hundredth time, I give an evil giggle. Yes, suffer little blue ball. Suffer like I suffer. My ears are bleeding thanks to you! Still, I could just switch the sound off. The sound effects are very limited and don't really add anything to the gameplay.
Let's be honest here - I didn't enjoy playing Edgeland. The first level was hard enough for me, with no idea what I was doing. Was I supposed to go fast, or collect all the pies? (I did both on level 1, but not at the same time!) I'm not clear what the advantage is of either. Merely finishing the level appears to be enough to unlock another one, though you are limited by which and how many you can unlock at one time. Still, if one level has you utterly stuck, you can tackle the others instead for a while. Just a few levels in, things get a lot tougher. The earliest levels are pretty linear but the later ones are vast open spaces with no clear route to take. A map of the level, either before you start or as a "minimap" display in the corner, would be a huge help with navigation. It's hard to make a gold standard time if you don't know where you're even going.
The developer's website refers to Edgeland as "a fast-paced, quick reflex platform game". It certainly is that. Perhaps the idea is that, by repeating the same sections over and over, you pick up the "line" and swing through the whole level in one fluid run. If that's how you play games, you might do well with Edgeland. If you're after the typical platformer, you're likely to become frustrated fairly quickly.
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