Wednesday, 9 January 2013

REVIEW - Snapshot (PC Indie)

Smile! You're on camera!

After crash landing on an alien planet Pic, our childlike robot hero, spots a beautiful butterfly. Mesmerised by the colourful creature he begins to follow it, a journey which takes him through vibrant forests, snow capped mountains, lava filled caves, and palaces in the clouds. This is the wafer thin plot to Snapshot, a wonderful and original take on the popular puzzle platformer genre from the talented folks at Retro Affect.

There are certainly no shortage of 2D platform games with puzzle elements, especially in the ever growing indie marketplace, and there are many that rely on a sole gimmick or mechanic to stand out from the crowd. We have seen magic marker pens, blobby companions, chuckable baby chicks, worlds that can be turned around the player, time and gravity manipulation, teleport guns and much more. Snapshot hopes to stand out by offering another fresh idea, albeit one seen, in admittedly basic form, in the bizarre Gekisha Boy on the PC Engine way back in 1992. Photography is the name of the game here, and Snapshot's ingenious use of this mechanic leads to much in-game experimentation. Pic is able to photograph the world around him, capturing certain items in polaroid form. These captured items can then be 'unsnapped' leading to their reappearance. Got a large crate blocking your path? Simple, just take a snap of the offending box, move the cursor elsewhere and unsnap it, placing it there. You now have a clear path ahead of you. This is clearly a basic analogy to explain the mechanic and while, initially, you are only faced with these kinds of simplistic puzzles, it isn't long before you are left scratching your head as you attempt to figure out the best course of action.

Visually the game is an absolute feast for the eyes. The characters are cartoony, well animated and full of childlike charm. Pic himself is especially endearing, and you will soon warm to him as you watch the lovable automaton jump, crawl, and bounce his way around the many exotic environments. The stages are also of an extremely high standard, with a gorgeous hand painted look that really brings the worlds to life. Musically the game is a winner too, with an atmospheric soundtrack that is both laid back and magical. Soft pads intersperse with pianos and twinkling synths, giving the game a nice laid back vibe. Later levels introduce some elegantly produced techno and dubstep tracks that are both musical and unobtrusive. It is no wonder the soundtrack is available to buy separately.

All this glorious, highly polished presentation would count for little if the gameplay didn't hold up, but I am happy to report that it excels in this area too. The platforming action feels responsive and the physics are spot on. Pic is an agile little chap who can jump quite high, a useful trait when trying to collect all the small stars that litter the stages. There are a set amount of these glittering collectables on each level, and acquiring them all grants the player a medal. Other medals are awarded for locating the special item hidden on each level (which must be photographed and taken to the exit), and for beating the par time. This all adds to the replay value as you can choose to just get through the level, or go the extra mile and solve more puzzles to access hard to reach areas full of stars or the special item.

Your photography skills are the most important part of the game though, and something that you will need to master if you hope to get very far. The camera crosshair is always on-screen and is controlled with the mouse. You can use an Xbox 360 controller which, while excellent for the running and jumping, just isn't up to the task of moving the camera crosshair around at the speed required in later levels. The mouse's right button takes a photo, and the left button drops the snapped item back into the world. Photographed items can also be rotated before being places, allowing you to be more precise in your puzzle solving. You get a limit on how many items you can have stored as polaroids, so you sometimes have to go back for other items, giving the game a Dizzy-esque 8-bit game feeling (this is a good thing). While the game's pace is often quite sedate much of the photography needs to be performed with fast reflexes, especially when dropping platforms beneath you as you fall, or photographing objects in flight. This does lead to some frustrating moments as the game requires the item to be captured completely in the frame, otherwise you don't obtain it. You have infinite lives but death, due to spikes or multiple hits from projectile spitting critters, results in the level starting from scratch. This isn't a huge problem, but some of the later levels are quite large, and losing all your level progress can seem harsh.

There are 4 main worlds in the game, each comprising of 9 stages, which themselves are made of 3 levels. The game eases you in gently, introducing new elements as you progress. Before long you will be snapping away at plant springs, friendly animals, doorways, projectile spitting baddies and erupting fireballs. The difficulty level is set just right and, apart from a few head scratching moments, I was able to progress at a steady rate. Later levels throw much more at you, with multiple types of items required, as well as nifty platforming skills to acquire them. There are also red zones that you cannot photograph in, meaning special switches have to be triggered to remove them, often on a timer. You have to be quick as well as smart to reach the exit star. It's this inventive use of items and switches that keeps you hooked throughout Pic's wonderful adventure, and looking forward to what the next world has in store for him. Evaporating cloud blocks, flying rabbits and even meditating monkeys that control the clouds with their mind (yes really) await the little android boy as he searches for his way home.

Snapshot is an incredibly immersive and captivating experience that you will relish getting lost in. You are constantly challenged by the game, but you are never left feeling overwhelmed or overly frustrated. The sheer variety of items and the nifty camera mechanic help Snapshot rise above the usual puzzle platformers and give it a firm place as one of the best in its genre. If you enjoy using your brain as much as you enjoy 2D platforming, then make this your next purchase, and become absorbed in its beautiful, thoughtful world.

The Good

  • Excellent and original camera mechanic
  • Tight platforming mixed with challenging puzzles
  • Gorgeous visuals and hypnotic soundtrack
  • Decent length
  • Secret items and stars add replay value

The Bad

  • Mid air photography can sometimes be fiddly

Developer : Retro Affect
System Reviewed : PC
Also available on : Mac
Price : £6.99