The Impossible Game Review—Not Impossible but Pretty Darn Hard
Whether or not video games qualify as “art” is a matter of some debate. To my mind, indie games go a long way towards moving the resolution of that argument towards “yes,” with this game, The Impossible Game (originally on Xbox 360 by Flukedude, brought to Minis by Grip Games), being a case in point. It is essentially the gaming equivalent of modern art, specifically those paintings that are literally nothing more than a square or circle on a canvas. Or, in other words, this is one of those games that you either “get” or don’t “get.”
The Impossible Game is of a fairly modern genre, the running platformer popularized by Canabalt, already represented on Minis by Grip Games’ own One Epic Game, as well as by I Must Run! from Gamelion. But, it features extremely primitive graphics, something almost out of the Pong era (if they could do triangles back then, instead of just squares). It’s also very, very hard. I won’t go as far as the title does, impossible, but it is a test of patience and your ability to memorize a level.
You control a small square that must navigate a course of pitfalls—other squares (which you can jump on safely), triangles (which you can’t), and black lines (which I guess represent a pit or something; they kill you, too). As your square moves automatically, the only thing you truly control is when it jumps. That’s what makes these games so much more difficult than normal platformers, because you really need to have split second timing.
There are a couple of things that help you. Firstly, if you hold down the X button, the cube will jump again once it touches down. This actually helps a lot, as there are stretches where that’s all you need to do. You have to figure these stretches out, though (most importantly, when to stop holding it down), and to help do that, you can set a flag to establish where you will resume the course after you die. Unfortunately, this flag is only available in practice mode, though it still counts towards unlocking the next level.
Despite killing you a lot, The Impossible Game doesn’t get all that frustrating, especially compared to some Minis I’ve played (Ace Armstrong in particular, which is also a harder game). For one, it restarts right away, no loading. For another, the deaths aren’t cheap; you either screwed up or you didn’t. No dying because you brushed a small piece of the background landscape graphics (there are no landscape graphics!), no enemies that run into you (as there aren’t any), no crocodiles that open their mouths at the last second. Just the obstacle course.
On the other hand, it features an all-or-nothing sense of progression. Sure, there’s an overwhelming feeling of “I am awesome!” and dancing around when you manage to beat a level, but at the same time, it gets to feeling more like work than playing a game.
You also don’t get any options to change the controls, which I would have liked. The face buttons on the PSP (at least the ones I’ve owned) tend to be a little mushy, so for something with precise button presses required, it would have been great to be able to use the shoulder buttons or even the D-pad. Grip Games wisely offered this option in One Epic Game, so it’s a bit surprising to see them backslide here.
There are five different levels. The first one is pretty basic, but they get more involved and even harder. The game has several unlockable medals and keeps track of several stats, though there is no high score table (which wouldn’t make sense).
While the graphics are about as minimal as you can get, the soundtrack is the opposite, by far the best I’ve heard in a Minis title yet. While it’s electronic-based, it’s not bleeps and bloops and buzzes but rather modern-style synthesizers. Unlocking the soundtrack to play from the menu would have been a nice addition.
Whether or not you buy the premise of the game, you can’t really argue that the creator didn’t do a good job of it. The stats, the number of levels, the unlockable medals, and, of course, the level design itself. All of which make a polished game and give an incentive to play, even if it is really, really hard.
With that said, I’m not sure that I buy the premise. To me, it’s basically like the old Dragon’s Lair game. In that, you had to press the joystick in a certain direction more or less arbitrarily, so that the only way to proceed through the game was trial and error, memorizing what to do and when. This doesn’t have that capriciousness, but it still involves a lot of trial and error and memorization rather than what makes a game fun to me: reacting.
But then again, people’s ideas of fun differ. If your idea of fun is memorizing a course, when to hold down the button and when not to, then this game is right up your alley. After all, it’s really not that much different from how many old arcade games were played (and you could learn the patterns from books); things are just stripped down to the very basics.