It’s easy to look at Glyph’s levels and its mechanical ball and assume this is a Super Monkey Ball-alike. However, despite the fact you’ll start out with a roll, you quickly discover how much time you’re spending off the ground in this charming puzzle adventure, even if its presentation is a touch on the austere side.
Set in a barren desert, you play as mechanical scarab Glyph who awakens with the no-nonsense purpose of restoring an ancient temple city. This is done bit by bit as you venture through various levels and collect items that unlock and restore the hub-like city as you approach closer to the source of its corruption.
Before your adventure begins you’re given a thorough crash course in the controls. Rolling around won’t cut it since levels are largely surrounded by sand which is deadly to the touch (the floor is sand at first, though lava – or at least red hot fire – also factors in). So Glyph can also jump, bounce, climb and open its wings to glide around briefly, the latter a reminder that you are indeed a scarab and not just a budget Samus Morph Ball. Like many other 3D platformers tend to suffer from, Glyph’s jump feels awfully floaty, which isn’t totally mitigated by having a quick-drop option, though when you are short on safe surfaces, you might occasionally appreciate the extra air time.
Bouncing off surfaces is arguably one of the most crucial skills in the game as this is akin to landing on a new platform, at least for a character without legs. It still means you can jump again and continue moving along the environment without losing momentum, which is precisely how you’re able to bounce your way up walls and pillars, though thin pillars are the ones to be weary of lest the controls or the positioning of the camera has you unwittingly slipping off. Even when there aren’t any vertical surfaces nearby, you’re able to reach new heights just by bouncing up off the ground and then opening your wings to propel you further to perhaps reach an otherwise out-of-reach item or another platform.
Experimenting and making the most of your bounce and platforming is crucial to exploring each of the 80+ levels in Glyph, which can be accessed in a non-linear fashion similar to Super Mario 64. Where it differs is in the type of collectibles that play an important part in how you progress. Each expansive level technically just asks you to collect a set number of keys to open a portal to finish. However, you don’t want to rush to the exit as what you actually need to open this hub are the collectibles placed around each level.
The plentiful coins activate portals to new levels but in order to open up more of the hub you need to collect pink gems, which are a rarer sight. The one exception is in the time trial levels, which feel more like the linear, twitch-based Monkey Ball challenges, where your rewards are gems based on your time. The requirements for beating these on a gold ranking are fiendishly tough, while unlocking these levels also requires a golden scarab that only appears once you’ve collected all the coins in a level. Rather than collectibles for the sake of completionists, you can appreciate how each feeds back into each other.
The most challenging collectibles are actually reserved for cosmetics which are accessed with a hidden switch, and even then might be located right off the beaten path. Fortunately, your mentor, a larger scarab, is usually perched somewhere in the level happy to drop a few hints and lore. While these are totally optional, they’re often rewarding to find and offer some much needed variety and colour to the game. By the end, I was quite pleased that I had turned Glyph into a turtle with wings.
Poking around for collectibles certainly makes each level last longer, though thankfully it’s not a precarious process. The game may have a one-hit death system but the good news is that most of your collectibles are still banked. The keys for opening the exit portal need to be collected again – though sometimes a level has just one key anyway – but the frustration is reduced by not being forced to collect everything from scratch.
That’s the benefit to this non-linear structure because if you do find a particular level tricky – and and I wouldn’t blame you if it’s one of the fiendish time trials or a level populated with enemies – then you’ll likely have resources to open up another level or area in the hub and just go from there. It’ll take plenty of hours to unlock, complete and collect everything but just a fraction of the resources will still be able to chart you on a path to reach the finale.
Overall, there’s a relaxed and meditative vibe to Glyph, no doubt in part down to its soothing soundtrack, and that’s important to keep you from raging when the difficulty does ramp up. Of all the hazards gradually introduced, we probably could have done without actual enemies to ruin our day – they may not hurt you per se, but bouncing or blowing you off into the deadly sand is bad enough. That said, the boss at the end is a decent multi-staged challenge that’s pitched just right for the end of this delightful journey.