At irregular intervals, "Indie Nation" highlights interesting games from the independent scene.
I'm tempted to call Matt Thorson the king of indie platfomers, which may sound weird considering I've never highlighted any of his games before. Jumper and FLail may well be two of my favorite minimalist platformers of all time; though all of Matt's games eventually get ridiculously hard, they remain enjoyable thanks to the sheer imaginativeness of the level design and the purity of the platforming.
I've been meaning to write about Thorson's games for a while, but thankfully his new work, MoneySeize, pretty much allows me to compliment his entire career all at once. Like many of his other games, MoneySeize is a remarkably focused, imaginative, and goddamn punishing platformer that's so goddamn addictive I'm having a hard time taking a break from the game just to do this writeup.
Literally fifteen minutes have passed since I finished that last paragraph, because I alt-tabbed back to the game, got stuck on level 35, and refused to come back to this post until I'd beaten it.
You can get the game here, in various formats, or hit the jump as I attempt to go on about MoneySeize while unsuccessfully fighting the urge to continue playing it.
All of Matt Thorson's games are goddamn hard, but most are far more frustrating than MoneySeize. Where games like Jumper and FLail subscribed to a linear level structure where you were basically screwed if you couldn't get past a particularly tough stage, MoneySeize has a much friendlier, more nonlinear structure. By collecting coins in the levels, your tower will grow progressively higher in the overworld. Once your tower reaches certain heights, you can reach more and more levels where you can collect more and more coins to grow the tower, and so on and so forth. As a result, if you're having trouble with one level, you can just return to the overworld and jump to another until you've got enough coins to jump to an even higher level, at which point maybe you'll feel confident enough to jump back down and tackle the level that stumped you one more time. And since the coins you've collected stay collected once you reach the exit, you can decide for yourself how many coins you wish to get in a single run. You're not required to perform any bullshit completionist runs where you grab every single coin in a level before reaching the exit: you can, to some degree, play certain levels at your own pace.
That's not to suggest that MoneySeize is anything other than an oldschool punch to the genitals, however. The later levels of the game will force you to understand every nuance of the game's seemingly simplistic platforming controls. You'll have to make jump onto degrading platforms with pinpoint precision, making the exact correct number of walljumps and doublejumps to reach your intended destination at just the right time. Around level 30, the game begins to require platforming perfection; you must jump here at exactly this height, or you'll go too high and bump into the spinning sawblades, then you've gotta land on this single block and do a spinjump before it erodes into nothingness, then you've gotta jump off five birds one after another and finally land at the spike-surrounded exit door. MoneySeize may sound like the exact opposite of fun when described that way, but there's something about Thorson's level design that makes every new punishment interesting and pleasurable, in a weird way. Perhaps it's got something to do with the fact that Thorson wrings so much depth and complexity out of incredibly basic platforming mechanics, and forces you as the player to experience those depths for yourself.
You will die, a lot, but the near-instant respawn and nonlinear level design make prevent the game from ever being so frustrating that you'll truly, permanently give up on it. To be honest, I swore off MoneySeize more than a few times, but I always found myself crawling back about twelve hours later. I can't say the same for Jumper or FLail which, once I quit, I never looked at again.
MoneySeize also has a fantastically elegant and clever quasi-achievement system in the form of little colored birds that perch on various points of the levels. Each of these different birds represents an optional level goal: green birds require you to reach them without double-jumping, purple birds necessitate you not kill any othe renemies, and orange birds will fly away after a set amount of time. If you can reach the birds without pissing them off, you can bounce on their heads for a cash bonus. Without having to resort to achievement menus or awkward secondary objective HUD popups, these little birds encourage the player to replay each level using a new set of restrictions that seem initially impossible.
Overall, MoneySeize is probably Matt Thorson's best game yet. You can play it for minutes or hours at a time, and it's got his trademark brand of minimalist, difficult, remarkably observant platforming down pat. Get it here, and give it a good rating on Kongregate if you enjoy it.