The Indie Games Uprising III event has officially kicked off with the release of qrth-phyl from developer hermitgames. While the title does nothing to reveal what the game’s all about, it’s simple enough to understand if you’ve been around gaming any time in the last 30+ years. Essentially qrth-phyl is a modern take on the classic game Snake. Much like the Xbox Live Indie Games service itself, this game is a healthy mix of promise and disappointment.
For those unfamiliar with Snake, it had the player steering a snake around a 2D stage running over pellets to earn points, but caused the snake to grow longer. The snake never stopped moving and the player had to avoid running it into walls or itself. This game evolves from the long-standing classic by adding in a 3rd dimension. The game alternates between two different kind of stages. Half of the stages are cubes with 2 dimensional faces which players slide along the outside of. By collecting enough little cubes on the stage, a section of it opens up and allows players to pass inside to a 3D stage that allows complete freedom of movement. It is these areas where the game really shines. Players can weave in and out of tight turns and through their own growing snake tail in a tense race against time within an ever-shrinking environment.
One of the most interesting design choices of qrth-phyl also builds upon an older game. hermitgames’ previous title Leave Home had the difficulty automatically ramp up or down based on how the player performed. That design has been carried over meaning no two playthroughs of the game will be exactly alike. Players breezing through the stages will suddenly have tighter confines to work within as walls form and move, and placement of the collectible cubes gets sparser and closer to walls. I think this is a really solid decision by the developer. Although boosting the difficulty often shortens the length of the game, it also means players won’t have to play through dozens of levels to try to surpass their previous records.
Getting a handle on spacial recognition in terms of how far the snake is from a wall or obstacle is difficult. Eventually players can ‘get a feel’ for when to turn away, but ultimately it’s a guessing game. For a game with finite lives that rewards players for extending their current run, it can be a frustrating turn of events for a poor camera angle to cause the loss of a long snake chain or a last life. The same can be said during the stage transitions as the snake enters an outside area. Often I found myself aimed straight at a wall with too little time to react and save myself. The fact that the stages are randomized means that memorization isn’t even a possibility to save you in those situations.
This game really wants for a leaderboard. Although qrth-phyl is a modernization of the classic Snake game, arcade classics were popular in large part because of high score rankings and the bragging rights that come with it. Though there’s something to be said for bettering oneself, it’s arguably more satisfying to topple a friend’s records. I did continually come back to the game to see if I could improve (which I did), but I really wanted to see how I was stacking up against other press reviewing the game and other early purchasers. Although many XBLIG developers complain about the difficulty of including leaderboards in their indie titles, some have done it including fellow Uprising developer Smudged Cat Games in their past title Growing Pains.
I really wanted to love qrth-phyl as not only a nod to gaming history, but as the first title out of the gate for an event aimed at reigniting interest in a gaming service woefully unappreciated. I know the game is fun because I kept coming back to try to better my performance. It’s also frustrating in that the camera can’t show the player everything they need to see in order to succeed. While it falls short of greatness because of a few design flaws, there’s enough solid gaming enjoyment here to recommend players pick it up for the 80MSP ($1) price tag.
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