Octahedron is perhaps one of the most literal takes on the “platformer” genre going. In other games you merely leap from one ledge to another, occasionally bouncing off the heads or enemies, but is that really platforming? You have very little to do with the actual platforms, except grace them with your character’s feet. In Octahedron, you’re creating platforms beneath you one after another, using these temporary surfaces to reach places otherwise out of reach.
Therein lies the puzzle of this puzzle platformer. You have to use this ability to pull the trigger and conjure platforms to helping you navigate the levels and reach the end goal. Each platform only has a limited life before it decays and you fall back down to the solid ground or hazards waiting below, but they can track and move from side to side with you, letting you cross wide gaps. Between the time limit and the ability to only create a certain number of platforms between touching solid ground, it injects a little urgency to the otherwise rather relaxed tempo of the game.
There’s a quality to this game that’s shared by the likes of Lumines and Rez, with background music that is augmented and grows through the actions of the player. Every time you create a platform, every flower you pass through, every enemy that you trigger, they all make a particular sound that fits in with the rest of the music. It might not be particularly in time with the beat, but it’s something that draws you in as a player. Whether it’s trance or something that has more in common with early 90s console and arcade chip tunes, you have a hand in creating its overall sound. It’s no surprise that developer Marco Guardia is a music producer and part of the trance act Flutlicht.
The sound goes hand in hand with the strobing visual design, like a night club turned into a video game. The world is dark, and yet full of solid structures made out of coloured light lines. Every one of the lightbulbs that you crash through and flowers you pick up sends a ripple of light through the background, as though it’s a huge LED wall that you’re toying with. Your 2D character has a spinning octahedron for a head that illuminates the background and sees you leaving a ghostly afterimage behind you. It’s a unique look that really stands out from the crowds of indie games.
If there’s one thing I think Octahedron could do a little better, it’s introduce you to the controls and the game’s fundamentals more directly. There’s a touch too much idealism behind having no button prompts to help the player to figure out how to jump, create platforms and so on, which makes the tutorial area an obstacle to overcome instead of a smooth introduction. As the character fell for a seeming eternity at the start of the game, some square brackets appeared below him, but it took me a while to even realise I was meant to interact at this point. What was I meant to press? Cross to jump? Square? Move the sticks? No, it’s pulling the trigger that creates a platform. When dealing with a game that has an atypical set of gameplay ideas, it’s a bold move to rely on the player’s intuition like this.
Once you have made it through and learnt the basics, the game really comes into its own, as you apply those few ideas you’ve taken on board to the levels before you. They grow and evolve over time, adding in new enemies, new things to interact with via the platforms you create, and eventually you gain new abilities that transform the level design. Completing the first set of levels, you’re rewarded with a new platform type that shoots down onto the ground below. Through this, you can destroy enemies or break through certain parts of the level, opening up new areas and sometimes adding a more maze-like structure to the design.
Some of these levels are hard, especially as they introduce new ideas that you then have to get used to. You have a few hearts that are sapped one at a time as you bump into enemies or hazards, before setting you back to the most recent checkpoint, but for most of the game’s first hour or so, this is down to your own mistakes. Then come the birds the spring out of blocks as you jump and create platforms higher than them. Where your platforms could previously stop enemies attacking you from below, these swarm around the edges and hurt you. The only solution, as I soon found out, is to simply keep moving, which is possible thanks to no longer having a two platform limit. One new element overcome, the next threat come from the strobing light missile launchers…
There’s an infectious quality to Octahedron, from its music and visuals through to the intriguing ideas running through its puzzle platforming. It’s a game that draws you in with some simple new mechanics to learn, and then evolves them level after level, forcing you to adapt. Out in just under a month on 20th March for PS4, Xbox One and PC, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.