Concursion (PC) review
- Strong concept that shouldn't work but actually does very well
- Challenging, perhaps extremely so, but generally being fair with it
- Catchy soundtrack, presented in multiple styles as you go from world to world
Not so much?
- Prepare for occasional difficulty spikes as you progress; and with bosses, this many times over, feeling a barrier to progression more than part of the game's flow
- Graphically colourful but more functional than attractive
One game, that is five games, that make one game – Concursion should not work and yet does. The game sits solidly in a “difficult yet fair” bracket for most of the time, rewarding quick thinking and quick reactions to jump between genres and get the benefits from each. It’s not all perfect – some graphical polish would help, and bosses distract from the platforming levels rather than add to them – but there is still plenty here to recommend, if you can bring a willingness to test frustration right until the point it becomes satisfaction.
Concursion is one of those ideas that shouldn’t work but actually does, and quite well too. The gaming equivalent of a meal prepared with many clashing ingredients – in this case, genres overlapping each other as diverse as platformer, side-scrolling-shooter, and Pacman style maze games – you expect to find it revolting and instead leave with a pleasant taste in the mouth.
Ok, so there was an expectation of it hitting a sweet spot, with Games Fiends having gotten to play a four level demo at the Rezzed Expo and speak to developer Danny Garfield while there. Now having played the complete game and getting a feel for where the demo levels sat, a clearer idea of the game’s best and worst is available.
The plot initially is simple – reptilian monster king kidnaps princess, hero sets out to rescue; it’s perhaps the archetypal generic gaming plot. But that could possibly be a deliberate point – Concursion is a game of games, a test of the player’s familiarity with several gaming standards, so having a gaming standard to set everything up isn’t necessarily the writing crime it seems.
Your hero progresses through five game-types – an old-school platformer, jumping on enemies heads and avoiding spikes; an action platformer, controlling a ninja as you slash your way through samurai while wall-climbing and double-jumping out of (or into) danger; jetpacking through hazard-laced space environments, with asteroids and mines a constant threat; flying a spaceship shooting (and being shot at by) enemy ships; and the mentioned maze sections, collecting various coloured dots.
However, these do not form separate levels; instead, bubbles of reality – the concursions – overlap, meaning you will have to quickly change from gametype to type. Some are basic – collecting dots in the maze to unlock platforms, perhaps. But others are more involved – using the platformer’s ability to sprint, jumping into the ninja-game to double-jump with that extra momentum and reach a jetpack section… changing approach very quickly is key.
The learning curve is pretty steep, although each individual level is relatively short, and these are themselves broken down further with checkpoints. The average time for completing a level seems to be about two minutes, although the time only records checkpoint to checkpoint, meaning deaths and restarts aren’t factored in… expect some two minute levels to last ten times that. However, don’t let that sound off-putting, as the satisfaction of getting a series of jumps, changes and so on right is extremely high, albeit often punctuated by some choice language.
Later, this is made even more testing as the concursions begin moving, or opening and closing at key moments. Enemies will also change between the worlds, leaving you having to judge what behaviour something may have when it crosses one boundary into another. And if all that wasn’t enough, some enemies carry small pieces of their world with them, meaning you can have spaceships shooting at you when you’re trying to perform double jumps or jetpack past obstacles. Thankfully, this does go both ways – any offensive moves you may have will work against enemies regardless of their form, occasionally leaving you having to jump onto spaceship to reach higher platforms, or shooting from space to hit waiting ninja archers.
Getting to the level’s exit is only one of the challenges. Each level also has several shards, and collecting these will unlock background information on enemies, levels and the games themselves. However, collecting them all is rarely straightforward – progression may seem linear, but when you begin hunting you’ll realise just how many off-route hiding spots (and at times, whole areas) there actually are. And if grabbing these wasn’t enough of a challenge, there is also a par time for the levels, encouraging speed runs to forever cut fractions of a second from your previous best.
It’s not all perfect though. Completing each level unlocks the next, and at the end of each world is a boss. These tend to carry on the genre-mashing concept, representing further diverse ideas such as one-vs-one fighters or JRPGs. Unfortunately, the difficulty spikes for the bosses tend to be disproportionate for the platforming sections that preceded them. Indeed some – I’m thinking of the one-vs-one boss at the end of the second stage especially here – do not test any abilities you’ve learned from earlier levels so much as your sense of perseverance to keep re-trying. While the platforming sections can be a pleasure, the bosses feel more like hard work, stopping you from exploring the levels to come. There is a sense of enjoyment in replaying most levels, but the bosses are not among these.
Graphically, the game has an uphill struggle. While is extremely colourful, it often seems functional rather than attractive. It’s not bad exactly – something that would benefit from extra polish and more animation rather than a complete overhaul – but there will be points you’ll wish there were clearer hit markers in the shooter, or wonder if the hitboxes for collision are perfect in the ninja game.
However, the standard of presentation is lifted a lot higher by the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Christopher Hoag, Emmy nominated for his work on House, the music running throughout is almost irritatingly catchy and fits the genres well. And by genres, you realise how much work must be involved setting up a soundtrack for five games running concurrently. The background music changes as you move from world to world, keeping with the same tunes but equally being specific and distinctive for what you’re in at that moment – you will never confuse the games aurally.
There is definitely an old-school vibe running through Concursion. Partly it’s the difficulty, and partly it’s the composition of several sub-games that would have stood individually well in the 8bit console era. Woven together like this they become a meta-test of gaming ability – how well you can change control from title to title, or see how you can take advantage of abilities from one game in another. It is not an easy game, but forgiving enough that you feel rewarded for progression and rarely held back by unfair design.
One game, that is five games, that make one game – Concursion should not work and yet does. The game sits solidly in a “difficult yet fair” bracket for most of the time, rewarding quick thinking and quick reactions to jump from genre to genre and get the benefits from each. It’s not all perfect – some graphical polish would help, and bosses distract from the platforming levels rather than add to them – but there is still plenty here to recommend, if you can bring a willingness to test frustration right until the point it becomes satisfaction.
Concursion is available from later today on Steam, and will also be available via other digital distributors.