As is fairly obvious from the things I write here, I’m a huge fan of the video game company Treasure, and strive to make games with the same feeling of innovation and wonder that they make. With only three games to his name (written in Multimedia Fusion, a game construction kit, no less) however, Joakim Sandberg is already leaps and bounds ahead of me in that regard.
Sandberg first appeared with a game called Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns, an excellent and very Tresure-y, Mega-Man-like platformer where the main character evolves between a normal human form, a monkey, and a telekinetic future human to navigate through levels (“Noitu Love” is “evolution” spelled backwards, after all). The game was a little rough around the edges, but it featured some ingenious boss battles and a lot of clever level design.
His most recent game, however, is what prompted me to write this. Chalk is also written in a game construction kit, but you’d have no idea from looking at it, and all the little game-construction-kit obtusenesses that made Noitu Love a little klunky have been completely smoothed out in this game (although Sandberg warns that playing it full screen is a little buggy). All of the game’s graphics look like they were drawn in chalk on a blackboard, and more than anything the game reminds me of a cross between Kirby: Canvas Curse and my own unfinished game Sketchy; the former because the mechanics are centered around drawing lines on the screen while a meter tells you how much chalk you have left for the current line, and the latter because the game has a hand-drawn look and theme, and because you are simultaneously moving a character with the keyboard and moving a stylus with the mouse. If I had to pigeon-hole it into a genre, I’d say that it’s a shooter since much of the gameplay involves flying though a constantly-scrolling level and dodging enemy bullets and obstacles, but it’s certainly unlike any other shooter I’ve ever played. Sandberg says the game is “arcade-length”, which is an excellent description; each of the game’s first five levels features both a mid-boss, an end-boss and some excellently-balanced gameplay in between, and the sixth level starts with a boss rush of the first four levels’ end-bosses, finishing with an extremely Treasure-like final boss who combines all of the rules you’ve learned over the course of the game into one big fight. I also feel compelled to mention that the difficulty level of this game scales perfectly, which is very welcome since I’ve noticed lately that so many homebrew game developers tend to make games that are challenging to themselves, who have been playing the game over and over again during its development and know all of its tricks and secrets because they’re the developers, rather than making the game playable for anyone else who is picking it up for the first time. Sandberg understands that everyone except him will be playing this for the first time, and starts out the difficulty accordingly, but also does an excellent job of ramping up the difficulty to keep the player on his toes without making the game impossible or frustrating.
Oh! I forgot to mention the music and sound! The music and sound are also wonderful.
And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you to play it, Sandberg has released the entire game for free, so you have no excuse to not download and play it now. It’ll probably only take you an hour or two to beat, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it. The only thing that could possibly make this game better would be a DS port; maybe I can convince him to let me help him make one, so I could feel like I’m catching up with him rather than being left in his dust.