Game Review: Alteric [Sometimes You; Nintendo Switch]

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Mar 30, 2018
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Platformer, Arcade, Puzzle
Publisher: Sometimes You
Developer: Sometimes You
E  *Mild Fantasy Violence

In World of Warcraft lore, Alterac was one of seven human nations to have joined the Alliance of Lordaeron during the Second War. It was also the weakest kingdom and provided very few soldiers and supplies to their allies while its leader feared that the alliance would fall and he would have to surrender his sovereignty to save his subjects. In a sense, anyone playing the slightly similarly spelled Alteric parallels the weak kingdom of Alterac. In the beginning things seemed promising for this platforming puzzler, but as time moves on and the player works their way through the game they begin sensing that their sovereignty is slipping away. The first rumbling of this is that the player will quickly notice that when the game is paused the action does not stop. This means the player loses the control of pausing whenever they want unless they want to risk dying.

However alarming the lack of pause functionality may be, the first true red flag is the fact that the game page not only warns the player of a frustrating future, but also has the most lore to be found while playing Alteric. As the game page states, “Only yesterday you were a man. Today everything has changed. You Died. But your soul is still there. It’s a piece of light energy trapped in the alien space between two worlds.” Yet as the player progress through the game, they would not even be able to guess any of those details. The game places the player as a white block on dark backgrounds, with the gameplay evolving and unfurling over relatively simple platforming levels- until the levels are not so simple (I’ll touch on that later). The biggest gameplay selling points are the two interconnected worlds and the ability to change gravity in some levels. The world changing is crucial to figuring out a lot of the puzzles in levels, but at times it feels like it was added to a puzzle just to mirror the difficulty of Dark Souls. The gravity addition near the end of the game brings some freshness, but has its own can of worms.

Returning to the frustrating future warning: the developers list on the game page that they tried to develop a game in a way where it was Thomas Was Alone meets Dark Souls. This essentially boils down to not having many save spots. Which usually is not the end of the world, nor was it that huge of a deal early on. It is when the player begins to work their way through Chapter Two- again, no story presented in the game and yet it is broken into chapters- that the lack of save beams or manual saves begins to frustrate the player. For example, the player must jump up a level during the second chapter using platforms with buzzsaws before hitting an area with three bullets shooting down and one shooting horizontally right at the box. That is only the first half of the level as then there is a section where the player must double jump while changing the world to evade lasers to finally reach the end. All of that, while not being able to save or reach a checkpoint. This is just difficult for difficulty’s sake and, when paired with some other examples, it just turns into an unfair challenge for the player.

These other examples are based around the physics of the game that eventually makes the player feel like they have lost the control of making it through on skill and that it is more based on luck. This is first really seen in Chapter Two when, on a level with a downward slope, the player must land in between two hazards. Many a time I would land and do a slight tap to head upslope only to have the box barrel uphill into the above hazard and die. Then shortly thereafter the player must tip over an edge with a laser just barely wide enough for the block, but because of the physics and the way the block may not fall just right the player will die and start all the way at the beginning again. These oversensitive movements feel slippery and takes a promising game that demands precision and perfection and makes it one of the most unfair and terribly frustrating games I have ever played. And that is before the gravity control is added into the mix in Chapter Three, where one tiny mistake on a landing means the player is dead and starting over from the beginning.

With the gameplay a mixed bag, the non-gameplay aspects are in better shape. The graphics are serviceable enough for the genre; the relaxing soundtrack is soothing and honestly lures you into a false sense of security. The game runs on the Unity engine and I only noticed one instance of the game struggling but once I died again it stopped. However, for a game with such a dark color palette it is disorienting to receive a sudden blast of white light in the eyes. There is no way to change this or the control sensitivity as the settings only include language and music/sound volume. I would have also loved to have a way of knowing what level I was on without exiting to the main menu and selecting levels and then the current chapter I am playing through. Everything is excusable, but the simple indication of the current level the player is playing though is such a genre staple that it is highly noticeable when it is omitted.

Conclusion

In the end, Alteric takes away the player’s sovereignty with its demand for precision and perfection, all the while having oversensitive movements that feels slippery. In its desire to be a Dark Souls-esque platformer, Alteric has abandoned the charm and spirit of its forefathers. Not only that, it is not even a rewarding platform puzzler. By the end, players will want to quit due to the diminishing returns of fun over unfair, luck based situations. With other, much better, games like this on the eShop it is difficult to recommend this game. Even with a low launch price point of under five dollars. (Ryan Williford)

6/10

Review key provided by Sometimes You. All games reviewed in handheld mode.

 

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