June 18th, 2012 | By Chris Priestman
Across an empty desert, a beat up taxi shambles, leaving just the sandy dust it kicks up in its wake. Seated is Tiny – a nerd in every way. His two front teeth bite his lower lip in determination as his head hangs over the green glow of his Reality Boy. Next to him is his hand-crafted radio, serving as his only company both for its tunes and disapproving commentary. As you watch this opening scene unfold with the radio trying to distract Tiny from his game and remind him of the purpose of their journey, you’ll look on, wondering when the main menu will appear, if at all. It will once you click on the right button, but for a moment there, you’re happy just soaking in the pristine comic book quality visuals – speech bubbles, pencil line shading and all.
It’s a shame that Grandpa’s Leftovers is mostly confined to brown rocks and desert terrain. Not the most exciting of settings, but the game does a good job of livening it up a little. Add some jazz, a spot of blues and rock ‘n roll. Add a villain that gains his powers from the pants he wears on his head. Add some tools to carve up those dull rocks and bring them tumbling down to a massive “THUD” written across the screen so as to fit the comic book aesthetic. Style is certainly not lacking.
This slice of nerd-cool may come across as complex at first, but it is in fact a simple tale with simple gameplay to match. Tiny’s grandpa disappeared and left just a pair of pants for him, though he assures him that “world’s destiny lies in those pants.” Big, Tiny’s smaller sibling, steals the pants and heads towards a mysterious pyramid in the desert, a place that seems to grant the pants-wearer the most power. Tiny sets out to get back what is rightfully his and to stop the world becoming enslaved by Big.
While Big can fly and lift huge rocks, which he’ll be more than happy to chuck at his pursuer, Tiny relies on his tools. Being an environment lumberer, these consist of a cutting laser, a sticky claw and homemade rockets. With these you can slice rocks, pull them and push them respectively. Essentially, this turns what would otherwise be a simple platformer into one that issues the player the risk and reward of carving out their own paths. That’s not to deny the game’s linearity, but it does mean that exploration is encouraged but requires a little more work than usual. The rewards for doing so come in the form of collecting extra tracks for the soundtrack and finding little gimmicks, such as a band’s practice room. Be a little more daring and you’ll find arcade machines in which you’ll enter and be given a mini-game to play. This might be making a specified shape with your cutting laser under a time limit or cutting up clay pigeons before they hit the ground.
At its core, though, Grandpa’s Leftovers is a game of cutting and climbing, mostly. Each of the levels requires big rock structures to be sliced up and then yanked across gaps to form makeshift bridges. At other times, you’ll be bringing piles of rocks crashing down on to each other as if the conclusion to a game of Jenga – these become stairs to hop up. Another mainstay action is carving rocks into more accessible slopes. It’s all quite exciting at first, but like the sun baked rocks you’re shaping, the gameplay in Grandpa’s Leftovers does become a little dry. If you’ve played the beta demo – Up That Mountain – then all of the game’s mechanics have been introduced to you already; unfortunately, it doesn’t evolve much past that.
The only fault that can be picked at regarding Grandpa’s Leftovers is that it unveils itself too early. There’s only so much fun you can have with cutting and pulling bits of rock around. The only sense of diversity is brought about in the direction you’re heading – either up, across or down. As you progress you expect more tools to be introduced to add something fresh to the gameplay, but this never happens. Even the small boss fights, if you want to call them that, repeat themselves and won’t offer much in the way of a challenge. It is a solid game though, and will keep you entertained for the 2-3 hours playthrough time. The banter between Tiny, his radio and Big during the game’s cutscenes provide plenty of much needed character. Plus, there is a certain pleasure in bringing nature crashing down to its knees; such is the sensation upon carving up mountains and sending the rubble tumbling beneath you.
Inevitably, you’ll be left searching for more, and this is when you’ll begin revisiting levels to make new discoveries. The aforementioned mini-game searching and soundtrack collecting is joined by finding the many “boring stones” and trying to complete each level with the par amount of laser cuts. In reality, these are only small rewards and most likely won’t satisfy your craving. What you’re really looking for is something to get excited about once again, but that isn’t to be found. Instead, the core gameplay becomes, at its worse, a little monotonous. None of this is helped by the palette either, which is generally brown and black, sometimes a little green. You’ll want the pink inside of a freshly sliced cactus to spill out over the environment to entertain your eyes. There’s a moment in which you help Tiny climb a mountain temple, he admires the sun glazed view outside, but even that is denied as he has to persist with his climb inside.
The reality is that Grandpa’s Leftovers is just the first part of an ongoing series with the titular twosome. As such, this first episode is mostly introductory and it is quite plain to see that the comic book aesthetic and slightly wacky characters have a lot more to offer. So too does the gameplay, providing that Tiny’s range of tools expand and evolve. A very stable experience is on offer here that is well worth investing in. And how many games have such appealing onomatopoeia – “FIZZLE” “GEZERK” “ZOP”? The latter stages of the game are just in need of a “KICKO” after such an engaging start. That is no doubt being saved for Episode 2, though.