The End Is Nigh PC

The chal­lenge comes, if not nec­es­sar­ily from twitchy plat­form­ing, from sim­ply fig­ur­ing out your route

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Ed­mund McMillen, Tyler Glaiel For­mat PC Re­lease Out now

You need a per­sonal mantra for this kind of plat­former. Oth­er­wise, you go mad. Ours is bor­rowed from Ein­stein: in­san­ity is do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults. Nev­er­the­less, the lin­ear struc­ture of Su­per Meat Boy in­volved re­peat­edly throw­ing a fleshy form at the brick wall of a level’s end un­til some­thing fi­nally stuck. Here, the walls are gone. Each screen of The End Is Nigh is con­nected to an­other, the map a Metroid­va­nia-styled web of pos­si­bil­i­ties, and pro­gres­sion is less about per­sis­tence than it is sim­ply try­ing a new ap­proach.

For bet­ter or worse, the re­sult is that the twitch plat­form­ing on show here is sur­pris­ingly, well, sane. Em­pha­sis is of­ten re­moved from raw re­ac­tions and placed on think­ing your way around Ed­mund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel’s eerie labyrinth. Rather than a se­ries of self-con­tained, tick­ing-timer races so fran­tic that com­ple­tion is some­times al­most an ac­ci­dent, The End Is Nigh is a grand puzzle that you solve at your own pace.

It is eas­ier as a re­sult, though per­haps a lit­tle less im­me­di­ately en­gag­ing. Ex­plor­ing be­yond The Split – a level with three ex­its to reach, each splin­ter­ing off into its own mul­ti­ple path­ways – is even, dare we say it, re­lax­ing. Screens filled with per­ilously tiny plat­forms, poi­sonous gas, crum­bling struc­tures and what look like gen­tly mi­crowaved Chain Chomps flick seam­lessly into each other as we bounce the proto-blob pro­tag­o­nist Ash from left to right. When we hit a level that be­gins to raise the blood pres­sure, a re­lease valve is within reach. We open the map and warp straight out of the ir­ri­tat­ingly se­date mov­ing plat­forms of Ret­ro­grade, back to the The Hol­lows’ phos­pho­res­cent depths.

Be­ing able to move away from a prob­lem and be pro­duc­tive else­where is a breath of fresh air in the con­text of McMillen’s past work. It’s even more de­li­cious when you’re able to trig­ger a change of scenery with­out leav­ing the cur­rent level: much, if not all, of The End Is Nigh is built to also be played back­wards. Run past the edge of a stage to trig­ger a check­point and you can tackle it in re­verse, apoc­a­lyp­tic rub­ble fall­ing to elim­i­nate cer­tain pos­si­bil­i­ties while tempt­ing hooks beckon from walls. You can’t wall-jump, so mak­ing your way up through tight spa­ces is done by throw­ing Ash onto these sharp – and sharply placed – grap­nels, where he sits, quiv­er­ing, while you pon­der your next move.

And there are plenty of them to de­cide be­tween. If you’re mov­ing for­ward, do you go for the safety of the screen’s end? Or per­haps risk grab­bing a hard-to-reach col­lectible on the way? These Tu­mours, af­ter all, are Ash’s real goal: he’s build­ing him­self a friend to hang out with now that dooms­day has ar­rived, as you do. Choose to dou­ble back for a re­verse run, and it’s of­ten eas­ier, cer­tain hooks or plat­form edges be­com­ing use­ful when viewed from the other side. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’re

LOOSE ENDS

Nigh, in­deed. As you might ex­pect from a man with McMillen’s back cat­a­logue, there are mul­ti­ple end­ings to see, each more dif­fi­cult to ac­cess than the last. While you can cer­tainly con­sider your­self pro­fi­cient by com­plet­ing the main game and cob­bling to­gether your new best buddy, do­ing so un­locks a new set of even more hellish lev­els to run and a se­cond end­ing. The third – ac­ces­si­ble only by su­per­hu­man ef­fort – fol­lows an es­pe­cially bru­tal gaunt­let that ratch­ets up the ten­sion in ways we’re loath to spoil. Me­chan­ics re­main largely un­changed, the difficulty in­flated by ad­mit­tedly quite ar­ti­fi­cial means, but per­sis­tent plat­form­ers will find that the lands be­yond the world’s end hew much closer to the bone. able to ac­cess new nooks and cran­nies, where high­value Mega Tu­mours or game car­tridges (you can warp home to play your col­lec­tion of sadis­tic 8bit chal­lenges on Ash’s CRT TV) lurk be­hind hid­den walls.

The chal­lenge comes, if not nec­es­sar­ily from twitchy plat­form­ing, from sim­ply fig­ur­ing out your route: ex­e­cu­tion fre­quently feels sec­ondary to plan­ning. The loss of mo­men­tum when hang­ing from a hook and squint­ing at the po­ten­tial paths ahead can of­ten feel dis­ap­point­ing, but at least McMillen and Glaiel don’t scrimp on de­vi­ous red her­rings. Spring­ing off a tooob­vi­ous hook might seem an ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion, for in­stance, but some­times you re­peat­edly won’t make a jump un­til you re­mem­ber you can grab the ledge just above, the ex­tra mil­lime­tres of lee­way enough to fi­nally get you over the gap. Re­mem­ber­ing is an is­sue, how­ever. A lack­lus­ter tu­to­rial made up of talk­ing skele­tons and hastily pasted signs near the be­gin­ning of the game at­tempts to ex­plain Ash’s abil­i­ties – au­to­matic ledge grabs with the trig­ger, longer jumps from edges and hooks with a D-pad in­put, faster falls and slides through grates – but is swiftly for­got­ten. McMillen has shown he doesn’t need to use text to teach – like Mario and Mega Man be­fore it, Su­per Meat Boy quickly im­parted its ba­sics through de­sign alone – so why The End Is Nigh bores its play­ers with sig­nage is a mys­tery. And a steady drip of lit­tle in­ad­e­qua­cies flows through the game. We could swear that the oc­ca­sional ledge grab fails to reg­is­ter when it should. It is hard to re­mem­ber that the flat edges on ei­ther side of spikes, or the slight­est con­tact with the front of a gun will, logic be damned, kill you. It is also a lit­tle tricky to track things like seizurein­duc­ing flash­ing bul­lets on a mono­chrome back­ground with­out dy­ing be­cause of the dis­trac­tion. Less crit­i­cal, but still jar­ring, are the things that don’t un­der­mine your abil­ity but blight the ex­pe­ri­ence. Ash, love­able and op­ti­mistic as he is, doesn’t pat­ter and smack around lev­els like his meatier an­ces­tor: he just sort of goes, with­out any au­dio­vi­sual fan­fare.

Call­ing this the spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Su­per Meat Boy, then, feels a lit­tle disin­gen­u­ous. McMillen’s break­out hit was an over­whelm­ingly phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence – all jab­bing thumbs, beads of sweat and cor­pu­lent, high-speed plat­form­ing. By con­trast, The End Is Nigh is played mostly in your head, not with your thumbs. It is, as a whole, smart stuff, and a re­fresh­ing new di­rec­tion for McMillen’s brand of twitch plat­form­ing. But the pace is slower, so the stakes feel lower. With ex­plo­ration now the main fo­cus, the re­sult is some­thing al­to­gether dif­fer­ent. But then, McMillen and Glaiel know that light­ning never strikes twice; Su­per Meat Boy had it bot­tled, and try­ing to recre­ate it would have been the very def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity.

MAIN The toothy maw at the bot­tom is one of sev­eral warp points, which trans­port you to the start of each zone once found. It can re­sult in lots of back­track­ing if try­ing to reach a par­tic­u­lar screen.

ABOVE The Hol­lows is our favourite level, all lu­mi­nous mush­rooms and pixel-per­fect bounces on glow­ing skulls, the sound an ul­tra-sat­is­fy­ing thwack of bone and Ash.

RIGHT As ex­pected for a game made up of in­ter­con­nected screens, there’s no level timer tick­ing away in the cor­ner, which we rather miss

ABOVE The hid­den car­tridge col­lectibles – one in each world – are rem­i­nis­cent of Su­perMeatBoy’s warp zones, retro in­ter­pre­ta­tions of main game ar­eas. You’re given a fi­nite amount of lives to com­plete them

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