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140

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Double Fine Studios
Developer: Abstraction Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:

Being pop culture connoisseurs affords us front-row seats to some really peculiar, fascinating events. Different art forms and media clash together in kaleidoscopic explosions of the boldest kind of ingenuity. It doesnít happen terribly often in video games, where most developers these days seem predominantly concerned with establishing common ground between their craft and that of filmmakers. But for a long time, the music genre was king. At its peak, shortly before its hypersaturation and inevitable crash, the genre was mostly fixated on simulating the act of making music. But games, ever the audiovisual medium, are often enhanced by the sonic arts. In some cases, they are all but powered by those arts. 140 is such a game. A platformer whose practical mechanics are so heavily intertwined with its soundtrack, that itís sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

140 embodies austerity and minimalism to perhaps a more extreme degree than any other game Iíve played. Itís a deliberate decision rather than a limitation. You see, 140 is not much for showing. Instead, it communicates its visual component as simply as possible and allows the rest of its design to inspire the emotional highs that are so frequently wrought by the mere act of playing it. Simple shapes and solid colors are all that populate the screen; the visuals are muted because the sound is more important. However, the functions of each gameplay sequence, as reflected in the visual feedback, are mathematically perfect.

Sound makes 140 what it is. If anything about the gameís audio design was less than perfect, the game would be a failure. Its pulsing, rhythmic soundtrack (its beats-per-minute count presumably contributing the gameís name) is perfectly composed and perfectly mixed. It is designed to tap into your subconscious and subtly hijack your cognitive abilities. And it succeeds to such an incredible degree that you might catch yourself and wonder if the game is somehow playing itself.


Gameplay:

Explaining 140 is a challenge, as the best way to get an explanation is to just play it for yourself or watch it in action. Music is a more universal language than my native English, and itís ultimately a better teacher than anything imparted with words. At its most basic, itís a platformer. Your objective is to get through a series of sequences without falling out of bounds or touching surfaces that resemble television noise. Some sequences are straightforward, requiring well-timed jumps and moving forward. However, the soundtrack informs the level design. It infects it. Certain parts of the soundtrack are directly tied to specific platforming elements. This lends a sense of passive participation to the musical elements and seduces you into a blissful zen state.

Iíll give a few examples, but not too many; 140 is a short game, and its pleasures are best kept unspoiled. Some platforms might blink in and out of existence to a very specific beat. Certain noises in the soundtrack are paired with elevators. And some measures may be structured with the purpose of telegraphing the transformation of a normal stretch of flat ground into a static death trap.

Each level ends with a clever boss encounter. 140ís bosses arenít like those in other games. While bosses often constitute the equivalent of a final exam, in which you demonstrate practical knowledge gained through what came before, 140 changes the gameplay entirely, forcing you to observe and adjust on the fly, while paying careful attention to the music. I may have been tight-lipped about the level design, but Iím going to be otherwise silent about the bosses.


Difficulty:

Half of 140 is enjoyable and somewhat unchallenging. Musically-inclined players should catch on without any problems, and even the tone deaf can succeed if theyíre observant. The three primary levels that compose the core of 140 explain themselves thoroughly; youíre clearly intended to trance out and just go with the flow.

After completing the three main levels, there are three "mirror" levels to complete. It is here that 140 is weakest. Itís not the level design thatís problematic, nor is it exactly the difficulty. Instead, itís the questionable design decision to send the player back to the start of each mirror level after a single mistake. These levels are far more devious, and in a few notable cases, mean-spirited. You see, 140ís core levels are consistent and steady. What you see is what you get, and you can only succeed if you are careful and observant. However, 140ís mirror levels hide all sorts of nasty surprises that are impossible to predict until itís far too late. This wouldnít be a problem if respawns were allowed, but instead, each death forces you to replay long stretches of gameplay that you neither need nor desire to revisit.


Game Mechanics:

Mechanically, 140 is likely the simplest game Iíve ever reviewed. Movement is all there is to the game. You can move left. You can move right. You can jump. Thatís literally it. All you need to do is progress to the endpoint of each sequence, marked by a strange-looking eye-shaped device in the ground. You must grab a differently-colored orb and return it to that point. Doing so completes the sequence, changes the colors, remixes the music, and allows you to proceed. There is nothing else to say of how 140 plays.

140 comes easily recommended to not only music lovers, but fans of abstract, artsy games. Itís a bite-sized bit of electronic entertainment that is perfectly priced for what it offers. Itís not perfect, and it doesnít have lofty philosophical or literary aspirations, but it seeks to deliver a unique gameplay experience. And succeeds.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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