Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: 36 Fragmnents of Midnight


There’s something to be said for simplicity in game design. A great core idea, when implemented with a very high standard, can make for a terrific game, regardless of how simple it is. The puzzle genre is probably the most ripe space for these success stories since it typically isn’t very demanding in terms of graphics and power. Look at successes like Tetris, Picross, or even Pushmo and you have strong design ruling the day and making for a compelling game even if the bells and whistles aren’t necessarily all there.

I would love to say that 36 Fragments of Midnight had even begun to reach the lofty heights of excellence these other titles have achieved but unfortunately it hasn’t. The problems for the game involve more than that though as, in general, I don’t even see very much ambition in it either. Ultimately playing out more like a very good and refined student project than a multi-platform console release 36 Fragments of Midnight has a deceptively good look in screenshots and video but once you begin to spend time playing with it the serious problems it has under the hood quickly begin to reveal themselves.


Aside from starting out every game with the mission to gather all of the fragments back together to bring to the black fuzzballs that sit there unmoving there’s no story or plot to speak of. You’ll have to venture out with only the ability to move left or right and to jump and double-jump trying to avoid obstacles and traps to collect glowing fragments. After many playthroughs it appears all of the fragments belong to a set layout with specific elements around them. These pieces of levels are then assembled together in somewhat random order every time you play. So you won’t know where everything is from run to run, you’ll just see familiar elements in new places.

Visually there’s actually not much bad to say about the game, for the most part it looks fine with a neat layered mist thing going on in most places. That said none of it is terribly ambitious so the points here come with a caveat that making things look nice and clean when they’re this relatively simple isn’t typically impressive. Similarly the minimal sounds in the game are just there, mostly blending into the background. While this is preferable to it being annoying or grating again, the lack of ambition in it all is hard to miss.


What cripples the game the most, and makes it very tough to give any recommendation for without a patch, ties to the transition when the screen has to move up. For the most part you’ll stay on the same vertical level for extended chunks of play. Ultimately, though, you’ll run out of spaces to explore so typically you’ll need to find a spot to move up. While conceptually this should be a pretty routine thing to do the way this transition is handled graphically and in terms of control is quite disappointing. First, the shift is pretty abrupt and doesn’t look very good to begin with. Second, I’ve run into instances where until the screen shifted up I had no idea what was above me and there’s a chance it could be spikes. No matter how well you’ve been doing the fact that you could blindly double jump to then hit spikes is just poor design, especially when the stakes of every death are so high since you’ll need to start over. The last issue is probably the worst though, and that’s the fact that the controls to double-jump when the screen shifts I’ve found to be quite inconsistent and unreliable. A potentially deadly situation you can’t avoid over the course of a long run and potentially crippling to your enjoyment of the game the further you’d manage to get. My hope is that this could be addressed with a patch, to improve the odds that you’ll be able to consistently make the double-jump on transitions in the first place.

In its current state I really can’t recommend 36 Fragments of Midnight at all. When it is an endurance game and there’s any control-oriented inconsistency or obstacle all I can imagine is people sinking their time into something that they can’t ultimately control their own success in. With some patching to improve the situation it would at least move the game up a bit, but still nothing would stop it from being merely mediocre. In the end it is what it is and you could spend some quick bursts of time on it and have a little fun, just even in that area there are generally more compelling titles than this one on the Switch.


Score: 3

Pros:
  • Visually it is simple but looks nice
  • Is set on what it wants to be and executes that, just not with much ambition
Cons:
  • In its current state I’d effectively consider the double-jump controls broken as they’re very inconsistent when trying to jump around a vertical screen transition
  • Aside from the double-jump problem the vertical movement when the screen shifts up is pretty rough and it is very hard to see what’s above you without potentially running into it first
  • About as unambitious a game as I’ve played on the Switch

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