Review by Zio143
The modern platformer distilled into one part great homage and one part brilliant game.
Much like how the First-Person Shooter has flooded the market and become the game genre of choice in the modern gaming-era, back in the mid-90's, that genre of choice belonged to the platformer. In fact, in its heyday, the platformer owned between one-quarter to one-third of the console gaming market: something the industry has not seen the likes of since. Everyone during that time seemed to own multiple platformers of various kinds. Physics based, run and gun, adventure. There were hundreds of variations, and the market ate them up, but they all boiled down (no matter how complicated they seemed) to jumping on or over things.
And in this platforming madness, two stars shone bright and led the path for the evolution of the platformer genre. Nintendo's Mario and SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog were the characters to beat, but it was Sonic that paved the way for an entirely new type of platforming character. The brightly colored, anthropomorphized lead with an attitude which exploded over night: Earthworm Jim, Bubsy, Cool Spot, Ristar, and Dynamite Heady to name a few famous followers.
This character archetype lasted well into the 3D-era, but with less popularity as the genre now only makes up less than two percent of all games. In the world of smart phones though, the platforming genre has seen a small resurgence. Most of the games released, however, rarely do anything new and are not all that much fun to play. They are just quick cash-ins for a gaming platform that is lacking in quality content. And it is here that Beans Quest comes into play.
Kumobius, a three-person indie developer with flashygoodness (Tower of Heaven) on music duty, has developed a game so full of nostalgia for a bygone era of gaming that if one was told it was a port of an obscure platformer from that era, it would not be that hard to imagine as everything from the graphics to the style of music to the character design is spot on for a Genesis-era platformer. Thankfully the guys at Kumobius are not only relying on nostalgia to sell the game as Beans Quest is a brilliant game in its own right with top-notch production and gameplay. Without a doubt, Kumobius first foray into gaming stands at the top of mobile gaming heap. Not only that, it could go head-to-head to its 16-bit ancestors any day. It is just that good.
The story starts off simple enough with Emilio having a nice date with his girlfriend while he plays guitar. She is then, unsurprisingly, captured by an evil wizard that also steals all of Emilios adorable pet axolotls. And for giggles, the wizard turns Emilio in a tiny, green jumping bean before the wizard drives off with Emilios girlfriend in his car. Like all good games from that era, it is cheesy, succinct, and gives just enough justification to trounce tons of baddies and jump through perilous dangers at the expense of ones sombrero.
Beans Quest starts off rather innocently enough with its level design. Simple platforming puzzles with an enemy placed here and there in a grassy field. Standard fare for the genre. But by the fifth world, the player will be doing some major acrobatics with this feisty bean. It is never frustrating though as even when death occurs (and it will occur a lot since anything and everything will kill our hero), Emilio respawns after less than a second at either the beginning of the level or at one of the many check points that liter the stage. And in a saving grace of modern gaming, Kumobius have been kind enough to get rid of the lives system and continues, so this plays more like other recent fantastic platformers Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins. It takes a load off the player to be able to experiment without being punished which is much needed.
In a nice design twist, the player only controls the direction Emilio moves as the Green Mexican Jumping Bean jumps and bounces on his own. While it may seem counter-intuitive to take the ability to jump away from the player in a platformer, it works towards Beans Quest advantage. Each level suddenly becomes a quick-thinking decathlon that must be navigated with precision to proceed, and thanks to the top-notch level design, Beans Quest is a joy to play.
Actually, if there is one thing to praise about Beans Quest, it would be its level design. Every jump, physics-based puzzle, and enemy is placed with such precision that it is hard to find fault with it. Just like how the Mario and Genesis Sonic games were the blueprints for platforming during their era, Beans Quest is the blueprint for the touch-based gaming era. This is proven even further when you realize that, of its fifty levels split across five worlds, each is crafted with an optimal path (a speed run path of sorts) and upon finding that path, playing the game is like poetry in motion. In fact, finding the optimal path rewards the player with a medal if they score on par (counted in jumps taken) or less for the course. Trying to beat your par, or even just finding that optimal path adds tons of replayability to the game.
On top of trying to reach the end of the level in record time, Emilio is also able to collect gems scattered throughout each level. These are placed in plain sight most of the time, but occasionally you have to hunt for them in not so hard to reach places. Collecting all of them within any given stage gives a gem medal for that level. And lastly in terms of collectibles are Emilios pet axolotls. Each level has exactly one axolotl, but they are tricky to get, and usually hidden. Later stages, the placement of an axolotl is almost mocking you since it seems like it should be so easy to get, but the path to it is convoluted. Getting his adorable, little pink salamanders are sometimes harder than actually completing the stage, but just getting the axolotl is not enough: you must complete the level after collecting him to receive the reward. Only the truly dedicated will get all of the axolotl medals.
But none of these high, flying maneuvers and collectible quests would be possible if the controls were not up to the challenge. And it is safe to say that they are. For a touch-based game, they could not be more perfect. Theyre pixel perfect even. Touch the left side of the screen to move left, and the right side to move right. Emilio responds expertly to your touch, so in other words, when he dies, it is your fault. Which sounds harsh, but in some instances Beans Quest is a rather unforgiving game. It has hard jumps and is not afraid to throw multiple tough sections at you, so mastery of the controls is a must. It does a fine job teaching the basics (without a tutorial yay!), but the intricacies of the controls are only learned through practice.
A wise choice Kumobius did when choosing chiptune artist flashygoodness to do the score for Beans Quest. It is catchy, hummable, and will stick in your head for a long time with its Spanish flare. Each world has a theme or two so you dont have to hear the same song looped through every stage. The audio-visual presentation is such a wonderful treat in Beans Quest, and though the retro-style is a popular theme nowadays, it is rarely executed this well.
What Kumobius has done should be applauded. They have distilled completely the platformer into the perfect formula of jump and move while making it still feel fresh and relevant in a market where the platformer has been all but forgotten. Beans Quest is a testament on how to reinvent an older genre in the modern gaming world, to make it appealing all over again, but still stay true to its roots. And for only a couple of dollars, Beans Quest is a steal.
Product Release: Bean's Quest (US, 04/05/12)
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