Have you ever taken one of those ‘guess the next word in the sequence’ IQ tests? Let’s have one now. Go on, it’ll be fun. Well, relatively.
Here we go.
Watching paint dry; the National Bus Industry Awards qualifying round; _________________
Guantanamo Bay; the Spanish Inquisition; _________________
Compiling the definitive collection of accountancy anecdotes; watching the extended edition DVD quintet of The World’s Least Notable Screensavers: The Belgium Years; _________________
Congratulations if you filled in every blank with Craftimals: Build to the Sun. While the utterly vile Rock Bottom remains the worst game I’ve ever played, Craftimals is simultaneously the most boring and the most grueling thing I have experienced in my life. It genuinely feels like a real-life torture technique; and this is coming from a man who was actually at the National Bus Industry Awards qualifying round.
Normally I’ll make an attempt to finish a game before reviewing it, only quitting if it’s too difficult, there’s no actual ending, or I just can’t take it anymore. Craftimals falls into the latter category so hard that it punches right through the floor and creates its own basement category that it keeps all to itself.
When you first boot up the game, the title screen looks pleasant. It’s minimalist and largely forgettable, but it has a fabric/felt sort of effect that I found to be easy on the eye. Little did I know that this would be the only thing in Craftimals that is remotely pleasant.
You choose one of a handful of cute but unsettling square animals – or “Craftimals”, if you really must insist – with your goal being to reach the sun. Perhaps its inferno presents your only hope of escape from the threat of gradual derangement that must accompany the tedious life of a Craftimal, or maybe you just think it’s a cake. Regardless, no objective is given other than ‘build to the sun’ and even that is barely mentioned outside the game’s title. The problem with building to the sun is that it’s a really, really long way off.
At the outset you can carry five blocks, grabbed from the Wheelbarrow of Infinite Masonry standing nearby. You hold X and move the left stick to select an exact location, then release X to place a block. In this way, you must build a rudimentary staircase to ascend into the heavens. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that having to return to the wheelbarrow at ground level every time you use up your five blocks will become irritating.After a couple of minutes you hit a checkpoint that upgrades your capacity to ten blocks. ‘Ah, now I understand’, you think to yourself, ‘each checkpoint upgrades my pockets’. Still finding it quite frustrating to keep making the return trip, you approach the next checkpoint and… unlock a hat. You’re still stuck with ten blocks. Oh well, next time. Approach the next checkpoint and… unlock new shades of block.
Sound fun? Just in case it does thanks to some bizarre celestial alignment, let me offer you some timings (you know I’m thoroughly entertained when I start timing things).
My block capacity increased to 10 after about 2 minutes.
My block capacity increased again to 20 after 20 minutes.
My block capacity increased a third time to 40 after 35 minutes.
After another two hours, it hasn’t increased again as I’ve barely ascended further. This is because each time you climb back up your staircase and lay down more blocks, you lengthen the journey for the next trip. After a while, even parachuting straight down to the ground lasts an age and climbing back up to the top after restocking becomes a Sisyphean task. The harder you work, the less fun you have.
Here are some more numbers for you.
After slogging away at Craftimals for half an hour, I started timing how long the component parts of my torment were taking me. Laying 20 blocks took me about 25 seconds. When I’d been playing for half an hour, dropping down to the ground to refresh my supply of blocks took 30 seconds – that’s 30 seconds of just falling steadily. It may not sound long, but try counting it while staring at the wall. Climbing back to the top of the ladder took me over 3 minutes, just so I could spend another 25 seconds laying blocks, then fall for another 30 seconds, then climb…
It really is the most tedious thing I’ve experienced in a long, long time. So tedious, in fact, that I don’t want to sell it short with colorful metaphors.
Every aspect of Craftimals gets in on the uninspired action. The pleasant fabric effect doesn’t last beyond the title screen. The Craftimal sprites are inoffensive, but also bland and inanimate. The blocks are just squares of color, and the only other thing you’ll see while climbing is a uniform blue screen of sky with painfully rare fluffy cloud stencils. Even at ground level, a clumsily drawn smudge of green provides the most meager reprieve. Metaphoric grandstanding aside, I found my vision blurring after about an hour as the unchanging, primary colored canvas took its toll on my eyes.
The music only serves to accentuate to repetitive tedium of all the other features. Perhaps a vigorous, chirpy ditty would have injected at least some timid semblance of life into proceedings. Instead we’re stuck with a short loop of flaccid muzak so featureless that even elevators shy away with a grimace.
I don’t know how anyone could call this a “game”. It is meant to be recreation, but it feels like work. It doesn’t even get the little things right. When you delete a misplaced block, it doesn’t go back into your pocket; it just vanishes and leaves you one block short. The auto-jump idiocy that’s present in so many Xbox indie platformers is present here. If you press A for a fraction of a second too long your Craftimal will automatically jump a second time, potentially nudging you off your block and dropping you seconds, or even minutes, of travel backwards down the ladder.
The unlocks that the game provides say it all. Most are redundant – hats and new colors – but even the ones that have practical uses just draw attention to the hideousness of the repetitious gameplay. Upgraded block capacity and (eventually) a double jump don’t help to ease the challenge as in many games; they just soften the arduous grind a little. However, isn’t the arduous grind meant to be the gameplay, or indeed the game itself? It’s very telling that the best upgrades in the game are ones that reduce how much time you have to spend playing it.
Craftimals: Build to the Sun is an abomination. The only reason to play Craftimals is if you’re applying for a job at Gitmo and want to have some fresh ideas to bring to the management brainstorming sessions.
Words can’t do justice to Craftimals, so I’ve captured a tiny glimpse of the abject misery on video. Feel free to watch it on YouTube.
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