How E.Z. Turns Simple Into Complex

March 14, 2018

It feels like we’ve been seeing a bunch more platformers that take what I’d call a “post-modern” approach to the design of their challenges. Things like I Wanna Be The Guy and Trap Adventure 2 that throw traps at the player at every chance they get, turning themselves into more of a trial-and-error game that chucks the improvisation skills demanded of more-traditional platformer design out the window.

I have… mixed feelings about this new wave of strict trial-and-error game design in general. Yeah, it can be fun and enjoyable, and plenty of really good games end up feeling like that’s their design. An example of this would be the Souls series- many players who fail repeatedly about those games often point to “artificial difficulty” or “trial-and-error gameplay”, but any long-term Souls player will tell that’s simply not the case. What keeps me from getting pissed at the design of Dark Souls is the emphasis on actual player skill instead of just being about trial-and-error. You still need to learn and master the mechanics, you just happen to fail a lot in doing so. It’s about learning the dang enemies, yadda yadda, this has been said over and over so I’m not gonna repeat it here.

And that brings us to E.Z., the latest game from Totally Normal Creature. With their last game, 64.0, he created a rhythm shooter focused on memorization while still demanding a fairly high level of skill from its players. E.Z. is in the same vein, with memorization of boards helping you but your skills in quickly figuring out solutions to the platforming challenges you’re thrust into is still important.

behold, an almost-perfect loop! HUZZAH!

As the same suggests, the goal is pretty simple- get to the other side of the screen. Right? How hard can that be. Here, I’ll do it for you:

There, easy peasy. What’s next?

‍...Oh. Okay.

See, E.Z. takes a simple, minimal approach to both its core mechanics and difficulty. There’s only a small handful of things you can do—move sideways, jump, and double-jump. Then, once you’ve learned the basics, it throws all sorts of remixes and new situations at you to create that sense of progression and increasing difficulty. Sometimes you’re on the ceiling, sometimes the controls are reversed, and other times the board is just really mean and damnit why are there so many falling things, jeez.

That simple goal of “get to the other side” pretty quickly turns out to be not-so-simple, and while it’s a little bit of an obvious twist given the game’s name, it’s still a welcome and well-executed one. Each of the 100 levels gets steadily more challenging, with the exception of a few stages in the middle that are just ass in general. The twists each level affixes to the minimal goal and mechanics are consistently clever, interesting, and challenging.

If there’s one thing about this game I dislike (and there is, but just one thing), it’s the way it punishes failure.

How failure works (sorry this one loops weird.)

In most rapid-challenge games, you simply have to repeat the same challenge until you succeed. In E.Z., it tosses you back one level, and the stage you play on is a random one from any of the past few levels. So if you lose on level 5, you’ll be dropped down to level 4 but the actual platforming challenge could be any of the levels from 1 to 4. If you succeed, then hey, great, you’re back on level 5 even if the stage was level 3. But if you fail, you get tossed back another level, and another, until you succeed through all of them and get back to where you were.

In and of itself, this isn’t really a bad idea. It’s just keeping failure fresh and provides another way for E.Z. to stand out against other games that simply send you back a stage. But, because of the random element, and how difficult some of these stages can be, failure often ends up compiling and becomes a little frustrating. Sometimes it’s just worth it to close the game and start it back up than it is to struggle against the 4 or 5 random levels you’ve failed through.

Even with that in mind, it’s still a fantastically fun little game with plenty of care put into its design and the levels you play through.

If you’re looking for a platformer that’s easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time, why not check it out?

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