As a child of the 80s, classic platformer games represent my early years just as much as Star Wars, Big Wheels, and acid washed jeans do. And since I’m generally happy to relive these bits of my childhood (other than acid washed jeans), I was excited when I got a copy of a modern take on the classic 80s platformer to review.
Little Walker is the first game by InvincibleTime, the one man studio of Blake Fix. Described as being “a platformer taken from 1986 the next universe over,” the game immediately recalls the decade when video games cemented their place in homes across the world and countless kids agonized over Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, and other happily frustrating memories. The controls are super simple: hitting “Z” makes you jump. And…that’s it. By default, the game has your character autowalking, but after playing for a few moments, I decided I’m not good enough at platformers to deal with that. So I turned it off and used the arrow keys to control my movement instead.
With such simple controls, it’s easy to think the game could be a little dull to play, but there are some nuances there that make it fun. The jump is variable, so the longer you hold down Z, the higher and further you jump. You can double jump off walls, and use objects and enemies to bounce off of to make longer jumps. Throughout the game, you can put different objects on your head to change the way your character functions. So when you come across a winged boot and put it on your head, you can make much longer jumps and double jump in the air. Putting a boulder on your head allows you to sink below the surface of water (which you normally just walk across), giving you access to underwater levels. These little twists add some interest to what could otherwise be a very basic game. The levels are challenging, throwing multiple obstacles at you right from the start and not babying you with a “warm up” level to teach mechanics while you play. It took dying a few times, but I eventually got the hang of it.
The art for this game is dripping with nostalgia. I’m not sure what the main character is supposed to be, but he’s cute enough to want to follow on his adventure. The colors and style of the settings and characters screams 80s gaming. Instead of retaining a simplistic 8-bit look, the backgrounds are actually rendered in a lovely way, adding a bit more visual interest to the game. Some of the levels have really nice color pallets that manage to capture the feel of 1986 while modernizing it. These were some of my favorite touches in the game.
As the studio’s first game, it’s not a surprise that Little Walker has some flaws. The game is buggy, which is frustrating and occasionally completely rage-inducing. I couldn’t complete the first level; My character walked off the screen, but nothing else happened. Confused, I thought perhaps the level just didn’t have an ending, so I went back out to the main menu and selected the second level, which didn’t load properly. I quit the game and went back in, and now when I hit “continue” it loaded me into the second level normally. Not completely game breaking, but it was a little annoying.
My bigger issue was later on. While playing the desert level, I died during a sandstorm, and when I restarted, I had a weird graphic glitch where it looked like the sandstorm animation was moving over the ground but nowhere else. Again, not game breaking, but annoying enough to make me need a break. Since I needed to take screenshots for this review, I decided to go back to earlier levels and return to the desert later. However when I tried, I wasn’t able to select the desert level, or the level before it. Instead, I was forced to play through two levels again before I could get back to where I had been. That was enough to get me to shut down the game and lose a lot of interest in it. There are enough bugs that the game feels unfinished. It’s free so I can’t complain much, but it’s still not a great experience.
Bugs aside, there’s room for improvement in other areas of the game. There’s not much of a story to speak of, just the little guy walking and navigating difficult obstacles. While I don’t think a retro platformer needs a deep story on level with a modern RPG, I do think it needs to have some sort of plot to give your character a purpose. A story as weird and simple as “on a quest to save kumquats from extinction,” would be enough. You meet other characters along the way who occasionally give you helpful hints or just say something completely esoteric that makes no sense. The random dialogue didn’t bother me that much, since it did feel very 80s, but I think it needed to be balanced by just a little bit of story.
The biggest issue with this game is that it just doesn’t stand out amid the many retro platformers that have been released in the past few years. If the tagline for the game is that it’s “1986 the next universe over,” it can’t just feel like a slightly polished version of the games that I grew up playing on my Sega Master System. It would have been fun if there were some sort of mechanic in the game to play off the idea of modernizing 1986 gaming, Maybe the main character needs to bridge the gap between his present and the future, or maybe there could be something to switch between completely retro and the more modern graphics of the game. I think with a little more creativity, this game would have held my interest better.
In the end, Little Walker is cute and has fun moments, but it doesn’t offer a play experience that stands out as being unique. I probably would have enjoyed this more as a portable game for my phone or tablet that I could play when I had a spare moment, rather than being tied to my computer to play something that is just a bit too simplistic. On the positive side, the level design is challenging and it feels good to finally get past a difficult set of obstacles. I think there’s promise there for some strong games from this developer, and I hope to see more from InvincibleTime in the future.
Little Walker is free and can be downloaded from GameJolt.