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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Mastertronic
Developer: Puuba
Release Date: June 6, 2014 (US), June 9, 2014 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Concursion'

by Brian Dumlao on Sept. 5, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Concursion is a fusion of five classic gaming genres. Darklord Biganbad has kidnapped a princess and torn rifts between realities. Explore five worlds in your mission to save the princess and defeat evil.

If you're planning on making a 2-D platforming game, you'll need a gimmick to make your game stand out. After several decades, the genre has dominated, retreated, and recently made a comeback. Games have tried all manners of gimmicks and characters to appear more appealing than others. Some of the experiments have been great while others have faltered despite their inherent inventiveness. Concursion takes innovation to heart, and while it may start off rather slow, it quickly ramps up into something special.

If you look at the game from a story perspective, it doesn't deliver anything special. The princess of your kingdom gets kidnapped by a dragon-like creature that looks similar to Bowser. As the fair damsel's protectors give chase, the villain uses a magical crystal that has the power to rip holes in the fabric of reality. As the knight who arrives at the scene just a bit too late, your job is to rescue the princess and return order to the world.

The game starts off in a basic manner for a platformer. Your character, a knight with red armor and horns, can walk left or right, jump, and take falls from any height. The only way he can defeat enemies is to jump on them, and he can only endure two hits before he dies. While the main goal is to reach the end of each stage, you have secondary goals, like collecting all of the broken gem shards in a stage to unlock extra character bios or trying to beat each stage's average completion time. Based on the first stage alone, there's nothing really special about the title.

Get beyond that first stage, and the title's inventiveness really begins to appear. Throughout each stage, you'll notice tears in the world that have completely different backgrounds. In each of the five stages, you travel to a different world and completely change your play style and abilities. The feudal Japanese background transforms your hero into a ninja with a katana and replaces your stomp as the primary attack. While you lose the ability to run, it isn't that much of a loss since your default speed is just as fast. The added abilities of double-jumping and wall-climbing make him far more maneuverable, and you also get an extension in your overall health.

The change to a stark black background transforms the game into a maze title that's similar to Pac-Man, and you get a top-down view of your surroundings. Similar to that classic, you have to avoid enemies while gobbling pellets. The twist is that the pellets are of different colors, and devouring all of one color opens up doorways of that color. The transition to an outer space background also makes some radical changes to the game, depending on which one is being used. The use of rocky terrain from another planet means you'll be donning a spacesuit but lose the ability to move of your own accord. Instead, you'll have to use your thrusters to move. The jet propulsions move you in either directions while you use gravity to descend to safer ground. Meanwhile, the space station background makes you a space fighter with unlimited ammo and free maneuverability in any direction.

The changes to the background also affect your enemies. Each of the environments has a completely different set of enemies. The standard platforming stages have small flying dragons, lizards, and sentient bombs. The planetary terrain forgoes enemies in favor of flying asteroids and heat-seeking mines. Ninja stages have enemy ninjas, spearmen, and samurai to deal with while the maze levels have guards that patrol or give chase if you wake them up. In the spaceship level, you have bunches of different enemy fighters to deal with in addition to random clumps of space junk.

The transitions from one background and game type to another are nice, and the first few levels do a good job of giving you enough time to get used to the nuances of each mechanic. Where Concursion really shines is when it starts to mix all of those styles together in seemingly random but interesting ways. You can be running along in the platforming level, for example, and see patches of the ninja level in the air to hint that you can combine both aspects to reach a higher platform. A barrier in the space terrain level can be unlocked if you finish up the maze level first, and a seemingly indestructible enemy can be killed rather easily if you lead him into the space combat level where he can be shot down. The mixing and matching of gameplay styles creates stages that can be frantic but pretty fun once you see how they match up. This is especially true when the segments appear in pieces or are fragmented and you see the enemies transition from one type to another without a hitch.

The game also tries to stick with an old-school ethic with some tricky level design. Even if you aren't going for all of the shards in a level, there are plenty of places where transitions happen in difficult spots, and your knowledge of what you can and can't do in some areas is the only thing saving you from death. You can get knocked back anytime you hit an enemy, and some elements provide you with instant deaths if you dare to touch them. Though you have unlimited lives, a checkpoint system means you'll be dealing with quite a few difficult areas in each stage, and the fact that there are over 70 levels means there's lots of game to be had. As expected, the boss battles can be tough, especially those that have lots of transitions in their stages, but they can also be the most fun.

Having said all this, the fun seems to be present when the different mechanics and genres are mixed together in a rapid fashion. When things are slowed down to the point where you'll spend a significant amount of time with a particular mechanic, you'll see how limited things really are. Your default character could have his controls tightened up since his movements often feel a bit loose when moving. You'll often feel you need to correct yourself mid-jump since it can be difficult to get a bead on whether or not he's moving accurately. That same slippery sense can be used to describe the space fighter, since the ship feels like it moves too fast. The maze sections have that same responsiveness issue at play; it never feels like you can cut a corner as sharply as you can in the old Namco hit. Both the spacesuit and ninja sections seem to come out just fine, though, making them the more enjoyable portions of the game.

The basic move sets plague all of the characters. At no point can you bless any of your characters with power-ups, so their attacks get boring because of how static they are. This isn't helped by the fact that the enemies pose little to no challenge, a point accentuated by the maze sections where none of the enemies bother to give chase — save for the sleeping one. Only the bosses prove to be any challenge, a disappointment to platforming fans. Again, none of these things stick out when you're transitioning from one mechanic to another, but once you stay in one area long enough, it can be tough to ignore.

The graphics are pretty bad. In screenshots, Concursion looks decent since it's very colorful. In motion, the animations are pretty sparse, and barely any transitions occur between animation states. The characters, from the enemies to your hero in his different forms, are all drawn simply, but they're drawn in colors that try to evoke some detail but end up looking flat. The backgrounds fare a little worse, as most of the environments look like sketches that were hastily colored instead of something that had seen some care. This is especially true of the backgrounds in the spacesuit sections, which are overly pixelated, as if someone took a small picture and scaled it up without any touch-ups. In short, it looks like a bad Flash game that got by with the basics instead of something that's more professionally made.

Certain portions of the audio fare much better. A big reason for that is the soundtrack, which perfectly captures the sense of adventure and whimsy in each level. With the melding of different-themed levels playing heavily into the game, the soundtrack does a great job of changing styles on the fly while still maintaining the level's musical score, an impressive feat when you consider how often the player gets to control when the transition occurs. Less impressive are the effects that vary wildly from being good enough to very quiet; they lack the punch to go along with the soundtrack. Without any voices to complement things, the effects should have been emphasized for more of an impact, but as they stand now, some players might not even realize that the game has any sound effects.

Taken as a whole, Concursion is an interesting and fun title. The mixing of mechanics and genres provides some nice and varied gameplay to stand out in a positive way from the rest of the crowd. When the title throws the various genres and mechanics at you at an accelerated pace, it can be a fun romp. You just have to contend with the fact that the game looks bad when compared to more recent releases. The mechanics, while serviceable, could use some tweaking and improvement. Unless you're an absolute stickler for these sorts of things, Concursion is worth checking out if you're up for a title that dares to play against the platforming norm.

Score: 7.0/10

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