07th Aug2017

‘Slime-san’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

slime-san-screen

This amorphous oddity was released on Steam in April, and now it’s squirmed onto Nintendo Switch. A fairly playable mashup of Super Meat Boy, Downwell and Life of Pixel (with a hint of Shovel Knight), Slime-san is a devilish retro-modern platformer with an old school aesthetic, new school flaws, and a predictably insane difficulty crest.

Whether you enjoy the retro-hideous BBC Micro-style gaudy pixel graphics may be a matter of whether your fonder memories are for Super Mario Bros or, say, Repton. It wouldn’t be my first touchstone for nostalgia, and it’s a bit of a hotchpotch of 4-, 8- and 16-bit styles; but I have to admire the intent to differentiate from the crowd.

One thing that will become quickly apparent is the sheer amount of content. This is a game which boasts fully 800 micro-levels. Along the way there are the usual art and music unlocks – again, in unusually high quantities. Developer Fabraz really wants you give you a reason to risk collecting its perilous currency (namely, half-digested apples) and feel rewarded for every achievement. And those achievements, ladies and gentlemen, are hard-earned.

Worlds are split into levels, which are split into rooms. Each room is a single-screen platforming nightmare. Here’s where those basic graphics are useful: Green is safe; red will kill you. The simple task is to reach the exit before a deadly wave of gastric fluid (the setting is the inside of a giant worm, naturally) washes you away. Die and the room resets instantly. As rooms are cleared, new mechanics and enemies are introduced: sticky floors, moveable blocks, and deadly crimson baddies running on rails, to name a few.

Slime-san doesn’t have a double-jump, although he can jump in mid-air. He also has a dash action, and this is where the controls can become somewhat fuzzy. The dash is strictly limited to the two axes, and the vertical doesn’t have the range of the horizontal. Do not expect the analogue versatility of, say, Ori and the Blind Forest. The dash is closer to the mechanic in Mutant Mudds – ergo, it’ll as quickly kill you as help you to progress.

Your little bogey can also melt through certain walls and floors. It’s a move that slows time (but not the brutal countdown), making those pixel-perfect jumps slightly more manageable. But the combination of dash-and-melt never feels completely natural or reliable, and in all honesty many of my more daring escapes involved the mashing of buttons while hoping for the best.

The default viewing perspective is oddly distant, showing the entire room within a needlessly bulky border. With a tap of the X button it is possible to zoom in for a more heavily pixelated look, but this view is basically useless because it makes it so hard to anticipate your next move. The default view is best, then – but expect to be squinting at the screen in handheld mode.

As with the aforementioned platformers, Slime-san is ostensibly retro but mechanically modern, specifically with regard to the controls. Ever tried playing Super Meat Boy on a keyboard? Exactly. Moving your slime through the room is a matter of mastering the analogue stick, in conjunction with the face and shoulder buttons (try doing that on an Amiga 500).

The combination of the needlessly zoomed-out viewpoint and the ultra-precise controls results in many moments of undue frustration, as you are asked to deliver perfect jumps on scraps of graphics mere pixels wide. I am willing to “git gud”, but the game must play fair also.

Outside of the main game is Slimetown, the sanctuary hub where you spend your cash. It’s a kaleidoscopic mess of colours and icons and sprites; an elaborate menu as baffling as Splatoon’s Inkopolis – although there are shortcuts, thankfully. Unlocks range from the mindlessly cheap (cosmetics like border artwork and costumes) and to the temptingly pricey (Downwell-like alternate playstyles).

The unlocks don’t stop there. It is possible to garner mini games, arcade games, Speed Running and Boss Rush modes, and a New Game+ mode which doubles the number of vanilla rooms. So, in terms of content you won’t be left wanting. Your desire to gather all these goodies, of course, depends on whether you are up for the very stiff challenge.

Slime-san isn’t revolutionary, but what it does successfully is gather some of the best elements of the recent wave of nightmarish quick-go platformers into a generous, reward-filled package. Unfortunately, while the value factor isn’t up for debate, the jury is out on the core controls, which never feel quite as reliable and intuitive as they should. Still, it’s a fun – and fantastically frustrating – little blob of minor gaming pleasure, and an obvious labour of love.

Slime-san is out now on Nintendo Switch eShop.

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