Mixing an unconventional narrative with twitch, high-speed gameplay is a unique combo that A Night At The Races fully embraces. This mixture of pacing yields a distinct experience, one that falls in line with Nakana.io’s library of stand-out titles.
Developed by Mushy Jukebox, players assume the role of a lone resident living like Neo before he learned about the Matrix. Dwelling in a small dystopian apartment in which you are about to be evicted, the player communicates through online message boards and text messages regarding the build of a Meat Boy-like platform game. After the player completes stages in this game-within-a-game platformer, the presentation cuts back to the dark apartment perspective and advances the dreary story. This goes way deeper than any simple “rescue the female” plot that is in every other game. Here, the story is grounded and drastically unexpected for any game, let alone one that has players jumping around stages as a square berry.
As unforeseen as the story is, the main portion of the game revolves around these berry-jumping platforming segments. This is not a typical double-jumping/wall-jumping platformer though. Although the goal is to ultimate reach the end point, the player must navigate each level with a mix between a traditional platformer and auto-runner. Instead of individual button taps, the player simply needs to run at the wall to start wall jumping. If this wasn’t unique enough, becoming skillful in light to heavy button taps is also imperative as harder presses result in bigger leaps. When done correctly and with some skill, some stages almost play themselves as the berry seems to flow effortlessly and with style across the stage. It feels good when done correctly but will probably take several attempts.
Thankfully, dying isn’t a major upset since most stages can be completed under a minute. The opening stages tell the player when and how to jump too, acting as a nicely paced guide. However, the game doesn’t explain the health system and the requirement for defeating enemies. Only through trial and error did I realize that each red enemy needs to be defeated by jumping on top of them otherwise one heart of health will be lost. The same goes for falling back to the bottom of the screen; landing into the abyss like when playing the Waterfall stage in Contra will cause the player damage. Take too much and it is back to the start.
When put into motion, there can be a lot happening as the default speed is designed to the quite fast. If the challenge becomes too much, the options menu contains a feature to reduce the game’s speed, allowing the player to essentially play in slow-mo if desired. Levels can also be skipped entirely too, a welcomed feature for a game that carries a higher difficulty. There are over 200 levels, each supporting its own dedicated online leaderboard. Since fractions of a second can be considered a long time, leaderboard competition will always remain high.
It is a juxtaposition going from the dark comic book art style of the apartment narrative segments to the blocky, simple platforming stages but each looks good. The visuals are complimented by the dark, yet speedy soundtrack too. A Night At The Races is an interesting game because it firmly mixes elements that do not normally belong together. If you are not good at demanding platformers, sure, you will have moments of struggle. At the same time, the narrative is the glue that holds it all together, something most platformers neglect or forego completely. Because of this experimental experience, it fits nicely as the next Nakana.io release.
Also Try: beating Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels
Don’t Forget About: Super Meat Boy Forever
Wait For It: the next challenging platformer with online leaderboards