Most of the games available on mobile devices have stuck with more traditional game genres, but others have brought about new subgenres. Such is the case with the automatic runner, a subgenre of the platformer where the player's forward movement, speed and direction remain fixed while players are restricted to determining the action to take while in motion. Popularized by the game Canabalt, the genre gained traction with games like Gravity Guy, Bit.Trip Runner, and the mobile port of Mirror's Edge. Thanks to the Minis program, the PSP and PS3 have had their fair share of such games, like I Must Run. The latest one to hit the system, The Impossible Game, may have a pretentious title, but it remains a fun experience.
Like all games of this type, the premise is rather simple: get to the end of the course without getting killed. To do this, you have to quickly learn what's safe to touch and what should be avoided, though they're easily identifiable even if you're playing a video game for the very first time. The solid ground and floating blocks are safe to land on, while spikes and bottomless pits should be avoided. Touching or falling into one of these hazards sends you back to the beginning of the level to restart the challenge. Although you don't have a limited amount of lives to worry about, the game keeps a running tally of how many times you've had to restart before you finally cross the finish line. The good news is that the levels, while punishing due to obstacles and their peculiar placement, are rather short. Trial-and-error gameplay may be frowned upon in other games, but it's practically a requirement here.
There are a few things that The Impossible Game does differently, but the most noticeable has to do with graphics. At a time when most games are trying to evolve from the simple 8-bit pixel graphics of the genre forebearers, this title seems to embrace the retro look by going for simplicity in any and every way. Your character, for example, is nothing more than a square block with an orange hue that happens to glide forward instead of roll. The pits are represented by black lines, floating blocks are also black, the ground is nothing more than a white line, and spikes are merely triangles on the field. The background contains nothing but a gradient color, though that changes hue as the levels progress. The simplistic look means that there's little to no confusion about what's happening on-screen. With everything so clear cut, there's no reason to wonder if what you're seeing is merely background dressing or something that needs to be avoided, letting you focus entirely on the course.
The graphical simplicity only backfires depending on the display being used. Because of the fast speed of the game and lack of background elements, televisions with low refresh rates will give the spikes a blur effect. The same goes for those who play this game on the old PSP-1000 models, though the effect is reduced on later PSP models. Playing this on a CRT set will kill the effect, and hopefully the screen on the PS Vita will do the same since the blur effect isn't present on the Android and iOS versions of the game.
The second thing the game does differently is provide the player with checkpoints. Usually, death means restarting the level, but the ability to toss checkpoint flags at any point in the course gives the player the ability to skip over rather tough sections in preparation for the harder ones. Multiple checkpoints can be used on one course, and they can also be deleted if the marker is placed on the wrong spot. Placing a checkpoint on the course instantly changes the run into a practice run, and while it won't count toward an offline leaderboard, it will unlock one of the five total courses if the level is completed. The only flaw of the checkpoint system is in placing a checkpoint for the first time. While the game features no load screens, putting down the first checkpoint causes the game to suffer a pause that lasts a few seconds as the musical track changes. Once the musical score changes, the game quickly shifts back to normal speed, completely destroying one's rhythm on the course. Since this didn't occur on the mobile or Flash versions of the game, it's sad to see the bug present in this iteration.
Speaking of musical score, it is the one thing that defies the game's retro feel. Instead of a soundtrack that sounds like something from the pre-MIDI days, you get a more modern electronica vibe from the score. Interestingly, even though no sound effects are actually emitted when you jump or die, the score makes it seem like your actions create a more interactive soundtrack. That illusion is quickly gone once you make a bad jump or switch to practice mode, but that discovery doesn't degrade the overall quality of the soundtrack.
The controls are simple. The X button initiates jumps when tapped and consecutive jumping when the button is held down. Tapping R puts down a checkpoint while L erases the last checkpoint placed on the course. The controls are responsive enough, and their placement works as well on a real controller as they do on the touch-screen. The only lament some players may have is that the button placement can't be customized, but other than that, there's not much to complain about with the controls or the default configuration.
The Impossible Game is an experience tailor-made for short gaming sessions. The short length of each of the five levels makes it so that good players can be satisfied to finish one level at a time. The high difficulty level of each stage also ensures that only patient players will enjoy this game due to the numerous deaths per level. While the short-tempered may start to throw controllers or systems after a few rounds, everyone else will appreciate the game's simplicity as well as the fact that this has the most levels of all available versions, making the $2.99 asking price well worth the investment.
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