VolChaos Review

VolChaos for the Xbox 360

VolChaos is the latest in a string of difficult games I’ve been playing lately including the recently-reviewed Growing Pains.  This particular platformer is the brainchild of Kris Steele, lead developer of Fun Infused Games.  I also recently reviewed one of his other titles, Hypership Out of Control, and if you read the review you can understand why I was excited to try this latest game.

VolChaos is a platformer consisting of a few dozen levels, each with the same task – reach the flag at the end of each stage.  To do so you must hop from one precarious platform to another with the occasional spring box placed to bounce you up into the air.  Working against you is the ever-present threat of lava, slowly(or quickly) rising up and erasing your ability to backtrack or slow down.   The game also mixes in a variety of enemies to either kill you or to otherwise interfere with your attempts to get where you’re going as fast as possible.  However, it’s actually the stagnant spikes that will often prove to be your greatest nemesis.  While it’s easy to feel a great sense of satisfaction when figuring out the trick to getting through an area without getting impaled, there are also times where you’ll find yourself cursing the developers for trying to be so diabolical.   On a few occasions I thought the spike placement was cheap because you can’t always see where you’re going to land when you’re springing or falling despite the inclusion of a tiny mini-map on the screen. For the most part, however, I felt like the difficulty was just right for seasoned gamers.

While your main goal is simply to survive, each stage also has a secondary task to try to collect all of the gems.  Many of the gems will already be on your path, but often they’ll be just out of your reach or placed in a direction opposite your goal.  This forces you to make the tough choice between staying alive and going for the glory.  It’s completely feasible to beat the game without collecting any gems, but if you can manage to collect them all on a particular level, you’ll unlock an expert version of that levelThese expert levels black out the background, speed up the lava, and throw more enemies at you in an attempt to force you to be near-perfect in your timing and execution.  I actually found the expert levels more fun, even though you lose the vibrant graphics.

The controls in the game certainly elicit mixed opinions.  I can appreciate how certain jumps in the game require you to build up a little momentum and how sometimes it’s necessary to take a little off your jumps in order to hit the next platform without bumping your head.  There is a definite learning curve to figuring out all the little nuances to your character’s jumping mechanic.  It’s not so much that it’s problematic, it’s just that it doesn’t always feel like you’re getting a consistent response with repeated actions even though you are.  According to his blog, Steele is looking at the horizontal movement in the game to determine if it needs tweaking.

As with many games in the platformer genre, there’s not a lot of depth to the story in VolChaos, but at least an effort was made.  The premise is funny for its mix of cliched adventurer story and its absolute absurdity.  Your character is a down-on-his-luck adventurer who has resorted to volcano-diving for gems in order to settle his bills and get what he wants out of life.  As well done as the story setup is, the various still-image intro screens that precede each level are just confusing.  I’m not sure if the developers are trying to be completely random or if there are some inside jokes I’m not privy to.  There are a few chuckle-worthy phrases amongst the entries, but for the most part these one-liners seem out of place or at least out of context.

The presentation style of VolChaos is immediately recognizable.  It uses an 8-bit graphical and musical style, as well as a simplified menu system.  The game really hearkens back to the old-school platformers of the mid-to-late 80s, though to be fair that can be said of many games on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel.

Perhaps the best quality of VolChaos is that it evokes such a feeling of relief and accomplishment when you just eke out getting to the flag before the lava overtakes you.  The game does such a great job of building that tension that some of the imperfections can be overlooked.  Steele already has plans in the works to examine some of the issues mentioned here if not outright fix them.  If you’re looking for a challenging platformer with some quirky humor, then I’d recommend giving it a try.

Note: This game was reviewed using version 1.0 of VolChaos on XBLIG.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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Author:Brandon Schmidt

Brandon is the founder and managing director of The Indie Mine in his free time. His preferred medium is video games and he's not shy about his support for the indie development community. You can follow him on Twitter @TheIndieMine.

2 Responses to “VolChaos Review”

  1. December 12, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    The version 1.1 update for VolChaos came out today with the following changes:
    - Reduced frequency of level saves, making the game faster for those
    with older Xboxes.
    - Tweaks to some of the more difficult levels.
    - Brief countdown before levels begin.
    - Ability to toggle map on and off.


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