Indie Wonderland: Volt

Some games, I look out to for weeks, carefully tracking their development and their progress through the labyrinthine process that is Steam Greenlight. Some games, I buy on a whim because I think they look neat. Volt, a game by the uniquely colour-coordinated Quantized Bit, sharply falls in the latter category. It… it looks neat, okay! I don’t have to defend my game choices to you!

Also it’s a game about a motile battery striking out to make it big. Just ponder that for a moment.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, absolutely nothing. Mechanical, *possibly* absolutely everything?)

Opening

I launch Volt. Against a blue-white backdrop of overwhelming glare and a calming tune that I find difficult to quantify, a black transporting platform holding a set of black blocks slides into view on a black assembly line.

What’s ominous about this? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

The Dark Claw drops the block into a larger, nondescript black container. It slides off again, and a massive crusher smashes the little blocks into dust. I don’t actually see it happening, but the little smoke plume rising from the container afterwards speaks volumes.

Back to the Elevator of Doom, which is ferrying another load of blocks to their final destination. This time, however, fate intervenes: one block wobbles, tips over, and falls off júst before reaching the Destruct-o-Smasher! Good show, little block.

Of all the worthy, only you survived.

The little block celebrates its victory by opening the eyes I didn’t know it had. Hold on, these things are… these things are sapient? And they’re just being crushed, like that? Christ almighty, that’s a dark idea. If these guys are batteries, and this is a recycling plant (like the Steam blurb claims)… is Volt carrying an anti-recycling message?

Also, GAH.

I SEE YOU

Who cares about that, though? Let’s talk options.

These are they.

Okay, that’s… that’s not particularly impressive. Am I missing something? There’s sound sliders, two of them… a ‘select battery’ thing that has four locked options… and the graphics options, such as they are, are hidden in a launcher at the start. And… I guess that’s it?

This is going to be a short Opening segment, then.

Initial impressions

I Start a New Game. I’m hit with a curving level track, like this:

Like the Oregon trail, but for batteries.

Ooh, a How-to-Play in the level select screen! That could actually be good. Will it be actually interactive learning instead of static images? I click the button, a screen loads in, and it turns out that that is in fact going to be the case!

THIS IS YOU.

I see little eye-block-guy, now with two bright yellow poles, clearly being a sapient battery. What up, battery guy? Battery guy also has two… free-floating arms, I guess? One of these arms is hanging limply to the side, but the other one is firing a beam of electrical energy to the ceiling, clearly holding the whole system aloft.

‘Press Left Mouse Button and drag cursor across beam to disconnect’. Alright, I’ll do so…

Carefully align the incision, and…

“I don’t know what I expected would happen heeeeeere”

*Bonk*, *bonk*, *roll*. Battery-dude comes to a stop at the bottom of an incline. Well, that was fun! What’s next?

‘Press Right Mouse Button to jump’. I do so, my battery leaps into the air… gets close to a glowing ball of energy that just happens to be nearby, and the world explodes in information overload.

“Now do all of these things at once!”

Okay, okay, relax. Let’s just take this one at a time.

Grabbing the glowing light ball has given me five beams. I can see the counter for these in the top left corner, next to a little battery energy indicator that’s been depleted a little. I can shoot those beams at walls, at a certain distance.

‘Connect here’, the game helpfully suggests. I fire a beam at the wall, and the blue floor dissolves, leaving me swinging into nothingness.

“That first fall I could have expected, but this is bullshiiiii”

But wait! Not swinging into nothingness! The arc of the swing seems to be taking me straight to the exit!…

Except it’s not, not really. As the beam crosses the corner, it suddenly realigns itself on the new ceiling, leaving me swinging just above the exit sign. Dangit.

Alright, no problem: I’ll just cut the beam at the right time and fall into the exit! I cut the beam… at the wrong time, sailing me straight past that final goal, hitting the ground with a thud.

Okay, no problem! I’ll jump up, and send a beam up to the ceiling, and then use the momentum of the ensuing swing to enter the exit! I jump up, fire a beam, and… hit the ceiling straight above me. Meaning no momentum, no swing, and I’m just hanging there like a fish out of water.

Er… okay. What do I…

Maybe if I click again, does that replace… no, clicking again just makes a second beam appear. Now I’m double stuck.

Why did I even think that would help?

Finally, through some incredibly stupid fussing, I manage to make battery guy hit the part of the exit square that triggers the level transition. I win!

Winning involves more falling, apparently.

Straight out of the how-to-play, I am immediately dropped into level 1_01. No-nonsense, huh? I like that.

“Now, do it again.”

As you can see, level 1_01 is easy to the point of being almost unfailable. I cut the rope, making ZeptoLab proud, and watch my little guy tumble into the great beyond.

I actually get a scoreboard of sorts after clearing this level. And when I say ‘scoreboard’, I mean ‘time-board’. Current Time, Best Time, and something marked with an ‘a‘. Is this something like par time? I’m assuming that it is, and that the ‘a’ stands for ‘aexcellent’.

Why not ‘amazing’? Because SHUT UP, THAT’S WHY.

Level 1_02, simple too.

“Now, do it again. Again.”

Level 1_03 contains some spinning sawblades! Spooky, but they’re way out of my reach anyway. Level 1_03 serves as a handy introduction that spinning sawblades can sever electrical beams, which… I don’t think was actually covered in physics class? Regardless, the whole thing works out for me, so I’m okay with it.

“For the love of Ohm, don’t cut the right wire!”

Level 1_04, more sawblades. Level 1_05, more momentum-swinging. Level 1_06, momentum-swinging and sawblades! I’m starting to see something of a pattern, here.

Yeah, I got this.

It’s not until level 1_07 that shit starts getting difficult.

Little Battery Guy continually looks *mortally afraid*. I don’t wonder why.

See, those orange ceilings? Electrified. If I attach a beam to them, a small electrical charge starts crawling across it, to me. If that charge hits me… okay, that doesn’t kill me flat-out, but it does deal one energy unit of damage. And disconnects the beam keeping me afloat. Which, in a level with a lot of ground-based sawblades…

…produces a lot of shrapnel.

Worse, I find out that — even if I do land in between the blades — jumping up actually costs me one energy unit of health, too. Which means that I can only jump a maximum of three times per level. The fourth jump… let’s just say the fourth jump is not a happy place.

From 1_07 on out, levels start getting more difficult. 1_09 introduces switches, which I need to toggle with my electrical beam. And blue surfaces, which are less ‘electrified death’ and more ‘you just can’t attach to this, okay’. Which is a fun concept to find out when you’re trying to swing beneath such a surface, and your beam re-focuses to grab the nearest ceiling, fails, and sends you plummeting to a nearby rushing chainsaw floor.

“Why do we even have a chainsaw floor here?”

1_10 even introduces anti-gravity. Anti-gravity! Regular gravity is hard enough to deal with, and now you’re literally flipping my life and turning it upside down?

I’d love to take a minute to sit right here, but I’m *fighting for my dear life here*.

But even more dangerously, level 1_10 also introduces optional collectibles. They’re hard to get, they’re out of the way, and getting all five of them in the 1_X level set gets me a new battery look.

So I guess we both know what I’m doing next, don’t we? Be right back after I fruitlessly pursue ever-more-difficult collectibles.

Onto page 2. >>

3 comments

  1. I think this game might suffer from over-complicating a simple gameplay conceit. Cut the Rope works because it’s fast and simple, like most mobile games.

    Also, I looked up ‘do it again, stupid’ to see how valid it is to call it a shamus young-ism… and it turns out, it’s TOTALLY valid.

  2. DIAS deaths are not clever game design. DIAS elements are contrived, arbitrary gameplay time extensions, trading on the player’s willingness to proceed even in the face of the designer more or less laughing at them.

    Barring things like Kaizo Mario World, where trying to avoid them is the whole point. And even that has savestates in mind.

    1. And even there, it’s the usually clever and unexpected method of implementation of the DIAS-deaths that makes them worth-while. Remember I Wanna Be The Guy’s upwards-falling apple? That made me laugh the first time it happened.

      Volt… less so, sadly.

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