Hey yuppies! Do you like ClusterTruck?!
Of course, you do! You love the-floor-is-lava premise and sunk many angry hours into its levels, culminating in a finish that felt satisfactory due to the evolution of mechanics and upgrades present. Well, how about we do that… but add 【Ｖａｐｏｒｗａｖｅ Ａｅｓｔｈｅｔｉｃｓ】 to it? Welcome to Verlet Swing.
This is the sophomore title from Flamebait Games, a small Swedish studio of six, who first released this in 2018. Their debut title, Passpartout: The Starving Artist, was a small success due to its cutesy gameplay, and frankly funny premise, which gave them enough power to create titles like this, and the upcoming Forge & Fight. After today’s title, the latter might be of interest to you.
The plot? It’s ClusterTruck, baby. You can’t hit any obstacles or the floor, and the difference comes in your mode of transportation. You have a grappling hook that can connect to random floating orbs and anything that isn’t rock. You must use your skills of momentum and grapple lengths in order to reach the exit, with all of this taking place in an aesthetic reminiscent of Vaporwave album covers… until the last section, that is.
At first, the levels are simple. The orbs are always visible from the get-go, as is the path, but after a while, you begin to learn new mechanics — And by new mechanics, I mean one. Swinging horizontally plays a huge part in most scenarios and the levels where horizontal grappling is required come too infrequently to keep you in a balanced state of mind.
I do appreciate that realistically, all we’re controlling is the first-person camera, but it does mean you tend to overshoot or undershoot certain obstacles. Your mind is automatically conditioned to keep a non-existent body in your trajectory, leading to a lot of moments where you just plow into a small hole that your head scrapes the top of.
That certainly sounds like a nitpick, but what I know for sure isn’t a nitpick is the fact that realistically, this game is amazingly barebones compared to its contemporaries. You don’t really get to evolve your player. It’s more that you have to wait until the game lets you evolve, with gimmick levels only occasionally cropping up and mechanics barely being explored, let alone used.
Every once in a while, the obstacle could be insanely finicky, requiring you to latch onto rockets and other speedy objects in order to reach the finish. They’re actually designed exceptionally tight. There’s not a whole lot of room for error, but then there’s also not a restriction on how the developers want you to complete. It shows good natures on the developers part, so why doesn’t this happen more often?
As for player evolution via upgrades and new tools to use to navigate around the map, forget about it. You’re just completing levels until Flamebait says “Okay, done”. After level 20, you complete levels in a purple wonderland filled with bubbles. After level 40, you complete levels in a purple wonderland filled with white head busts. After level 60, you complete levels in a purple wonderland filled with arcade machines. After level 80, you complete levels in HELL.
The hell levels creatively called “Crimson Court”, are where Verlet Swing falls apart and doesn’t even attempt to act like it’s there to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something fair. Everything’s a precision-filled waste of time, with the lack of environmental variety really messing up your perspectives. Every level is a red wasteland with black rocks and dark skulls, and knowing what you can hook and what you can’t, is an annoying waste of time.
See, where Verlet Swing shines is in the freedom of your completion. In the first 80 levels, there are various ways you can reach the objective, and these ways are intended by Flamebait, as there’s a ranking system depending on how fast you get there. When you ignore the obvious path, it’s more fun and rewarding since you used your own knowledge and skills learned to get there.
That being said, most of that won’t matter since the game in “Crimson Court”, since Verlet Swing wants to run you through insane gauntlets of tiny holes where you can only hook onto the blue orbs in specific spots. “Julbock”, “Rage”, and “Spiraling to The End” are easily some of the most unpleasant levels I’ve ever faced in any sort of platforming game, and it’s all down to bad game design.
You wanna look at what you’re hooking onto because the game has poor predictability when it comes to what it thinks you want to hook on. Naturally, you don’t wanna put your fate in the hands of poor prediction, so you look at what you’re going to hook. However, you do that, and now you have to pray that you don’t brush your ass hairs on a spiky outcrop of rocks that hate you.
How could this be fixed? Don’t release this on console. Horizontal swinging with a controller is just awkward, since it never truly lets you go in one direction flawlessly, and you can’t aim and steer properly. You’re always fighting with the seemingly anti-gravitational physics, which tend to float you towards the top of the ceiling, even when you’re being at a complete standstill. It makes no sense, and maybe we wouldn’t be having this problem if the only trick Flamebait knew how to pull in the last leg of their game was this fucking tightrope of utter BULLSHIT.
What happened to the other features present? Why couldn’t there be more focus on the rockets speeding through various crevices, or something new, like maybe you stay hooked on one thing and you have to hit some form of switches on the way up? As it stands, constantly going through tight holes like I met your mom one time is about as creative as recreating Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 in Flash.
Is it inherently bad that the game is this difficult? No, but I wish it wasn’t so enamored with one single awfully-executed mechanic. You wanna create massive marathon levels where I’m dip-diving through rockets and slowly-closing gates? Fine, that’s great, but good Lord, this game just makes me think Spider-Man took several broken noses to try and get swinging down perfectly.
Still, none of this would even be so bad, if it wasn’t so annoying with how it presents the later difficulties. This is sure as shit going to be an exceptionally subjective complaint, but the trope of games like Verlet Swing going “Haha, heehee, whoops, this game got super dooper hard weal quickwy, heehee, good wuck :3 :3 :3”, is abhorrent. Stop acting like it’s a chill platformer at all times. Just state that the game is going to be fucking difficult in the press kit, for the love of Christ.
Obviously, I completed all of the levels, because Momma didn’t raise any quitter, but I’m veering off track. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the last leg of the game then I’d consider Verlet Swing to be a fun time. However, with the price it’s at and the lack of any sort of neat or new ideas present and in the front row (all while having the last leg of the game propped on top of all that), you’re left with an experience that falls apart faster than leper who’s an F1 driver.
The only way Flamebait can think of switching things up is by adding various marathon challenges. It’s just an endurance run of 20 levels at a time, with the finale being all 100 at once. No, seriously. There’s also a 20-level gauntlet of random levels, but the difference is that you’re controlling a third-person camera, and holy shit, the introduction of a new mechanic after all of the crap faced in the last half of the regular levels is a life-saving breath of fresh air.
In the end, Verlet Swing doesn’t even attempt to monopolize or expand upon the raw batch of fresh ideas ClusterTruck conjured up, and instead serves to be another proof-of-concept title occupying various marketplaces. The aesthetic loses its charm when it stops trying to relate to the Vaporwave/Synthwave schtick, the music is so stock, it makes you feel like watching 90s infomercials, and Crimson Court can eat a bag of sand. If it’s on sale for less than ten bucks, then, by all means, give it a shot, but the truth is…
Ｉｔ＇ｓ ｙｏｕｒ ｍｏｖｅ,
Ｉ＇ｖｅ ｍａｄｅ ｕｐ ｍｙ ｍｉｎｄ,
Ｔｉｍｅ ｉｓ ｒｕｎｎｉｎｇ ｏｕｔ
Ｍａｋｅ ａ ｍｏｖｅ
Ｏｈ， ｙｏｕ ｃａｎ ｇｏ ｏｎ
Ｄｏ ｙｏｕ ｕｎｄｅｒｓｔａｎｄ？
Ｉｔ＇ｓ ａｌｌ ｉｎ ｙｏｕｒ ｈａｎｄｓ コギ真 ザォ びヽピぜグ衛演緯コ以ヴリぬ 医哀ヘ
This Review of Verlet Swing is based upon the Xbox One version of the game.
A vaguely interesting platformer utilizing an fun mechanic, but it never follows up on the opportunities, and instead serves to annoy you, rather than educate.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.