February 17th, 2010 | By Colt
The gimmick of snide lead characters that are too crackerjack for their own good and game designers breaking the fourth wall and spouting quips directly at the audience is hopefully fading away. You know the one: break in the action, our hero turns to us and winks. While it’s easy to remember these moments in a glowing haze of old-school fondness (such as the classic Monkey Island ending), it seems to be relegated for lesser games such as Conker, or used merely for shock value. This mechanic is used with good intention, a way to cement the character and player together, a bridge between real and virtual.
And Yet It Moves takes this interaction and literally spins it on its head, granting the player ultimate control: avatar, game world, fate. The left hand moves your bohemian character, simply a dude with stringy long hair and thick boots, and the right hand rotates the world left or right, as he jumps and runs through three distinct environments: Cave, Forest, and Acid Trip. More on that last one later. Any obstacle like a high wall is traversed by spinning the world, turning it upside down so the ceiling is now the floor and running along. This innovative game mechanic made AYIM an IGF Student Finalist in 2007. The game starts out simply enough, but the kindergarten solutions at the games start, quickly advance to Calculus and Astrophysics. You will swing from branches, avoid falling rocks, toss unsquished bananas to hungry apes, fight against gravity and momentum. It takes a clever mechanic and stretches it to encompass multiple scenarios, so that once you get the hang of one facet, you suddenly must adapt to a new skill.
With all this control and motivation comes ownership. AYIM is not easy, and it’s not exactly hard either. You will die often. And it simply requires patience and foresight. The real pressure isn’t repeated errors, because they are so inconsequential, but the reality that if you quit a level or make repeated mistakes it is your fault, for lack of fortitude or wit. The world is merely responding to gravity, and there is no camera error or cheap kills to blame. When you shatter into a million pieces after rocketing into a wall, you realize, “Hey, I might be falling too quickly.” The deliberate physics engine is less about traditional realism and more about keeping the game challenging in it’s own realm. For instance, when traversing underneath tumbling boulders, rocks free-fall overhead regardless of their starting position: it is cloudy with a chance of rocks, a persistent rain spout spawning rubble just above and off-screen. Trees sway, bats fly, flames always flicker upwards, stuff rolls downhill. The world is alive and squirming under your finger like a pinned sibling. My friend asked me as I repeatedly failed to get past a monkey guarding a door, “Why are you bothering that monkey?” I replied meekly, “It’s blocking my way.” And come hell or high water, you’re going to make it through.
The whole game has this bohemian, organic feel, and maybe that’s why I’m looking at it metaphorically. The graphics are layers of ripped paper, the levels the antithesis of structured graphing paper, with sound effects that seem mouth-made. Pops, chica-chica’s, finger-against cheek flicks all make an appearance. This all gets pretty grating after a while. I like the clean aesthetic of an N+ over the strange jungle beats and bopping of AYIM. I’m a proponent of less is more. Silence can create incredible tension. There is no real payoff or release after a particularly hairy situation, or any suspense really. It’s as flat and linear as the game world.
But it picks up during the last chapter, in which, –SPOILER ALERT– your character is bitten by a poisonous snake and dropped into a 60′s Dante’s Inferno, a twisting, tie-dyed world, with slinky extending platforms, possessed trees, jet black persona’s, and actual music. It is wonderful. The journey from practical levels as a lost spelunker in a cave or a jungle explorer leads into the full-blown ridiculousness of a Rez. It is now you against your imagination – your psychedelic imagination beset on squashing you between two kaleidoscopic slabs of rock. The last level is a treat to the ADD audience for toughing it out through the more utilitarian level design of the first two chapters. It is random, with no foreshadowing, hallucinatory, and glorious, with inventive puzzles and eyebrow raising moments, controlling two avatars, ebony and ivory, id and ego, to reach their respective goals. –SPOILERS END—
After this correction, And Yet It Moves is an obvious recommendation for platforming fans, but it won’t revolutionize the genre or convert any outsiders. Not that it has to. Despite some of the design turn-offs, AYIM takes a clever mechanic and creates an interesting world that slowly unravels. It is a less flashy Portal, but just as innovative.