Friday, February 5, 2021

Glyph (NSW) Review

Fresh off the figurative heels of yesterday's Blue Fire review, we have another interesting indie for the Nintendo Switch. This time it's Bolverk Games' Glyph, another 3D platformer with some corruption going on in its story! Let's rock and roll with the SPC review!

The Sand Is Lava: The Game

The Nintendo Switch is in no shortage of excellent and promising indie games, and that trend merrily continues thanks to Bolverk Games and their work on Glyph. If you're familiar with the children's game "The Floor is Lava", where players leap from safe tile to safe tile, all the while trying to avoid the floor, you have a general idea of what the basic concept of Glyph is. Of course, Glyph is considerably more involved, utilizing our scarab beetle ball's abilities to roll, jump, and glide his way around levels while trying to avoid touching the deadly desert dune sands, with only stone slabs, fallen columns, and other objects to save him from a destroyed fate.

Glyph's tale is a simple one, but when you're essentially a platformer, you don't really need an engrossing story to hook players, as that's where the gameplay comes in. Regardless, the ancient temple has been corrupted and buried in sand. With the help of your own platforming skills and a friendly beetle companion who follows along with you, you go on a journey to revitalize the temple and restore it to its former glory, ultimately finding the source of the corruption that caused the temple to sink in the first place. What follows is a series of over 80 unique levels featuring some truly tricky platforming challenges. 

However, before you can engage in restoring the temple and indulging in the meat and potatoes of Glyph's adventure, you have a helpful handful of tutorial levels to take on. These of course give you the ins and outs of Glyph's movement and move set. Our hero can obviously roll Marble Madness-style, but he can also jump, and in some instances, double jump, though this is a very temporary ability that goes away when used once. Only by rolling over green pads does Glyph regain the ability. Glyph can also continuously leap up the sides of safe platforms, as well as extend his wings to perform a glide, great for covering long distances, among other beneficial uses. 

Able to leap medium-length walls with a single set of multiple bounces, it's Super Scarab!

Finally, there's a pound-like smash maneuver that serves as a way to not only bounce higher to gain more altitude, but also to serve as an instant stop to Glyph's forward momentum. For instance, if you're about to fly past a particular platform and want to land on it effectively, just use this smash to slam into the ground, killing all momentum. Of course, use this over sand or other hazards and you're as good as a goner. Fortunately, an assist in the form of a white ring almost always hovers below our hero at ground level, helping to judge distance and depth.

Most levels are quite open and large with few safe places to land, but LOTS of deadly places to die!

Starting off in Glyph, there is a stiff learning curve. I found myself not really easing into things too quickly. Glyph is rather slippery in movement and despite having a heavy-looking appearance, he's as light and floaty in the air as a wiffleball. There is also a lot of forward momentum, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you can really master it to present some incredible runs through levels. Plus, the aforementioned smash ability helps in halting this momentum in a flash. Levels quickly ramp up in difficulty, requiring all of Glyph's abilities to become almost second nature for players. At the start of my experience with Glyph, I cautiously rolled and jumped around as slowly as possible, but by the end, I was making death-defying leaps from narrow platform to narrow pillar, bouncing off floors to gain extra height, gliding about, and zooming across the expansive levels with gusto. That isn't to say I didn't die a heck of a bunch. I certainly did, but I became much more comfortable with the controls and physics of the game.

However, part of the challenge that comes from Glyph does not always have to do solely with the oodles of platforming perils placed in your path. Instead, it's a combination of moving about levels while simultaneously messing about with the camera to put it in the perfect position for you to execute your platforming. Even with mastery of the platforming piece of Glyph, you need to juggle all that with getting the camera at the right angle, oftentimes requiring an almost "pat your head, rub your stomach" level of confusion. I'm not pleased to say that this is where Glyph greatly falters, but at the same time, I don't really know how this could have been improved considering how open and exploratory the levels are by design. They encourage you to traverse all over and move the camera around to discover new nooks and crannies.

A winged tortoise with a hazy green trail following behind it? Totally unlockable!

And yes, the 80+ levels on display in Glyph are mighty large and expansive. Well, at least the exploration-based levels. The other type of level in Glyph is the time trial, which unlike the exploration-based levels, these are linear as can be. However, I must say that the time requirements are a bit too tight for my liking. Some are manageable to get gold, while others are so arduous to even complete in time much less get gold in--even one-star difficulty level stages. So, here there is bit of an unevenness in Glyph's difficulty. While the exploration levels have a more... mm.... "relaxed"--for a lack of a better word--pace, the time trials are just plain devious. While they do unlock gems for beating specific target times, they fortunately aren't required to unlock every level in the game. If you're doing a modest amount of discovery in the exploration levels, you'll most likely have enough coins and gems to unlock everything up to the final boss. (Yep, there's an actual final boss, which ends up being rather enjoyable, though requiring lots of trial and error to beat.) 

For its exploration-based levels, Glyph takes a page from 3D collect-a-thon platformers with plenty of trinkets to collect. There are pink gems that unlock new areas of levels in the ancient temple hub, there are coins that unlock new levels within said areas, there are golden scarabs that only appear when all coins in a level have been collected (and those unlock specific levels as well), and there are keys to collect, too. Collecting all of the keys in a level is the only "must" to do in a level, and once you've done so, you must find and make your way safely to the goal. 

Don't hurt me for saying this, but these particular trinkets are "key" to clearing each level.

Glyph does not utilize checkpoints, so this may frustrate a fair number of players. Only some collectables are saved in a level upon dying, such as coins and gems. However, if you're going for a golden scarab, the secret avatar item that is hidden in each level, or the keys, you need to collect them and reach the goal intact in one run. 'Else you'll find yourself having to not only collect all of the keys again, but also either (or both) the golden scarab and the avatar item. Thankfully, you need not go after both optional collectibles (the scarab or avatar item) in a single given run. Still, since some of the exploration levels are so large in scope, it can be rather demoralizing and obnoxious to die and have to start from the beginning of the level all over again. It's more of a problem with convenience. Many levels have you trekking up or down the same starting linear path to reach the more open sections of levels that it becomes rather rote and tedious to do. A small blemish on otherwise enjoyable levels. 

The physics on display in Glyph are notably precise, sort of important for a ball-rolling platformer!

Speaking of levels, but changing the subject to a technical level, Glyph runs incredibly well on the Nintendo Switch, matching its 60 FPS promise in both docked AND undocked forms. The game is incredibly fluid in motion. Sure, you could argue that it's only because of the relatively simple geometry and non-complicated objects on display here, but it's a feat that is still worth applauding. There's a minimalistic approach to the visuals as well the sound design, too. The soundtrack is ambient and environmental, only kicking in with a pulsating rhythm and beat when all of the keys in a level have been collected and the goal unlocks. It is a small but highly effective touch. 

Glyph kept me entertained for a good while, from the easy difficulty levels that gave me an eventual comfort in the controls and physics to the five-star (or in Glyph's case--five-skull) levels, which are truly challenging affairs, requiring a masterful grasp of the game's mechanics and physics to overcome and complete. I can see myself playing even more long after this review is published, as there are many more levels left unplayed and unfinished, avatars to unlock (such as a skull with wings, a fly, a bird, and even a rainbow turtle) and particle effect trails to unlock as well. (Though the latter might be a bit too challenging as unlock new trails requires individual golds on time trials.) Still, the point here is that there is no shortage of content to be had in Glyph.

I have no time to deal with you, pesky enemy. I'm late for a Metallica concert.
(A caption that might have worked better without a pandemic going on.)

At the end of the day, I had a "ball" with Glyph, both literally and figuratively. The initial, decidedly steep learning curve will alienate quite a few players at the get-go, but for those who stick with the game, they'll eventually be whirling about levels like a pro--or at least a much more capable and confident player--and have fun doing it. While the difficulty all around is not the smoothest, having some levels that are a breeze followed immediately by those that will make you want to yell out in utter frustration, Glyph is all around a successful outing from Bolverk Games.

[SPC Says: B]

A Nintendo Switch code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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