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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Casual
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Graphite Lab
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2024


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Switch Review - 'qomp2'

by Cody Medellin on July 3, 2024 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

An artful reimagining of Pong. Control a Pong ball aching to break free of its life stuck between two paddles. Explore a dangerous, minimalist world, armed with simple, two-button controls.

Pong isn't the first game that Atari made, but it is credited as the game that kickstarted video games for the general public. Its importance is undeniable, but Atari hasn't been afraid to experiment with the series during the company's long and complicated history. There was a 3D re-imagining of the game during the PlayStation era, an iOS game that added a bunch of new gimmicks to the formula, and an RPG from a few years ago. qomp2 is a strange one, though, as the first game was an indie creation Atari liked so much that it purchased the rights and decided to make a sequel.

If you look at the game's narrative, qomp2 doesn't feel like a true sequel but more of an expanded remake of the original qomp. You play the ball, a simple square that's destined to bounce around between two paddles in a room for all eternity. One day, the ball gets fed up with the monotony, and after it gains a little control of itself, it leaves the presence of the paddles and goes on a journey to escape and find something new.

The overall goal per level is to find your way from the starting point to the end rail that takes you to the next level. As the ball, you're always traveling at a 45-degree angle in any of the cardinal directions. For example, moving right means moving up and right or down and right, and moving up means moving up and right or up and left. Movement is also constant, so you can't stop on your own, giving it a similar sense of urgency that you'd see in an endless runner.

You only have two control options at your disposal, so you aren't entirely subject to the whims of automatic movement. Hitting the A button allows you to change movement immediately but only at a 45-degree angle and it doesn't change the overall cardinal direction you're traveling at. For example, if you're going up and right with right being the main direction you're moving at, you can hit a button and go down and right instead. Hitting the button again will cause you to go back to an up and right direction so you can't rotate further than that. Holding down zR causes you to build up a charge, and letting it go has you dashing in your current direction.

The limited controls mean that you're always going to be dependent on the environment to help you move from one area to another. If you want to go in another direction, you'll have to hope you can guide the ball to a wall and that the bounce will take you where you want to go without leading you into danger. It is an interesting enough mechanic that makes the game intriguing and distinct. Some may complain that some parts of a level have long stretches before you can bounce, but others can argue that those stretches gives players some time to relax before calculating their moves again.

Speaking of dangers, qomp2 is packed with lots of them. Things start off simple enough, with patches of spikes and stationary spiked balls. The spike patches soon become walls, and the balls make way for spinning saw blades. Walls suddenly become destructible, and gates need keys to get unlocked. Vortexes change your trajectory, electrified timed gates appear, and creatures chase you down. The physics change, rooms rotate, and soon, you aren't allowed to touch a trail you create when you move. There are four boss fights throughout the campaign. The game takes every opportunity to throw hazards your way. On the one hand, it keeps the game fresh, as there are some new gimmicks to look forward to. On the other hand, it means that there's little time to soak in the new elements. The game can feel quite frustrating due to how quickly and relentlessly new things appear — right up until the very end.

qomp2 makes a few concessions to ensure that the experience isn't always so punishing. You have infinite lives and numerous checkpoints, so replaying sections of a level isn't much of a chore. Load times are also nonexistent, so the punishment for dying isn't harsh. You can turn on an aiming line, so you're always sure about where you're going. There's also the option to turn on invincibility, which means you'll never have to worry about traps and obstacles getting in the way, but it isn't a guaranteed instant win, since you still have to worry about dealing with your bounce trajectory and making it through a stage.

The game spans roughly 30 levels in length, which seems short at first glance. The levels are of a decent length, and you can finish the campaign in roughly four hours, depending on how many times you get stuck. In retrospect, the length is reasonable when you consider the difficulty scaling, and this ensures you have a good chance of seeing the end. For those who want more, each level contains extra collectibles, but the lack of other bonuses might be disappointing.

The presentation is fascinating. Graphically, the game is mostly in grayscale with splashes of color. The look is grimy, but it ensures that the ball and other elements are more prominent. The game also has a fish-eye effect when you play, and while it does look neat, the option to turn it off is certainly welcome. Sound-wise, the effects still mimic that of Pong, while the music goes for something relaxing instead of upping the adrenaline. It's more synthwave in nature and lo-fi, but it prevents the game from feeling more frustrating when you die for the umpteenth time.

qomp2 is an interesting title that certainly isn't for everyone. The limited controls make for an equally frustrating yet rewarding experience once you master the mechanics. The difficulty starts off fine, but the quick ramp-up will throw people off guard. The infinite lives, generous checkpoints, and some of the more helpful options help mitigate the ramp-up, but don't be surprised if you get stumped often. If you have a high level of patience and a love for unusual concepts and controls, you're the perfect candidate to enjoy the qomp2 experience.

Score: 7.0/10

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