The side-scrolling platformer was once among gaming’s most popular genres. Their narratives could be accurately conveyed in a few sentences and the characters’ motivations were hazy at best. For the generation that grew up with these titles, none of that really mattered. Whenever smooth and responsive controls were happily married with clever level design, no one was concerned with why they were running and jumping from one end of a stage to the other. Antipole, from indie developer Saturnine Games, is an enjoyable take on that classic formula that relies on an interesting twist to keep things fresh.
For some (presumably) diabolical reason, hordes of robots have invaded the world of our silent hero and it is up to him alone to stop them. That is essentially everything there is to tell about the tale of Antipole. This basic approach works just fine for the game. In fact, I prefer it over some trite story of a kidnapped damsel or political leader that has no real bearing on jumping from ledge to ledge . Antipole is all about successfully navigating mazes full of spikes, acid and those despicably evil robots while relying on gravity manipulation.
The only living character in the game is the protagonist (who looks like he was ripped out of the panels of a Dick Tracy comic) that conveniently stumbles upon the Gravity Manipulator. This useful device allows the player to reverse the polarity flow with a pull of the trigger. You will need to lean heavily on this item in order to successfully navigate the many platforming challenges and occasional puzzles. It also provides gamers with some additional options with which to disperse of the aforementioned evil robots. You could choose to gun most of them down with the Pulse Gun, the only other tool at your disposal, but is far more enjoyable to destroy them with environmental hazards via the Gravity Manipulator.
The manipulator’s primary function however, is to allow you to get through otherwise impassable dangers. Although its uses may seem basic and obvious in the early stages, the difficulty quickly ramps up and later levels require careful planning when bending gravity to your will. A power bar restricts the reversal of gravity to a few seconds and only restores when you are standing upright (as opposed to being inverted during polarity manipulation).
The pacing feels spot on, as new challenges and wrinkles to the established formula are thrown into the mix whenever things begin to feel a bit too familiar. Levels increase in difficulty at a steady clip and provide a thoroughly enjoyable challenge down the final stretch. Changes in gravity strength and the introduction of enemies that can manipulate the polarity ensure that things stay fresh. Death comes frequently on the harder stages, especially for anyone who is as bent on grabbing each board’s three hidden coins as I was. You’ll often have to place yourself in harm’s way to obtain them, but collecting the coins is both fun and rewarding. They can be cashed in to unlock special challenges. These are quick stages that require the completion of a basic objective. The primary campaign is certainly the bigger draw, but these extra boards offer a fun incentive for you to revisit the title after the credits roll.
Most gamers will plow through the 20 main stages in short order and younger players may be turned off by the difficulty. Dying rarely feels like a cheap and aggravating inconvenience though. It mostly comes as a result of rushing ahead too quickly or not properly utilizing the Gravity Manipulator. The sole platforming annoyance is the inability to get the hero to perform a running jump at what feels like the last second before falling off an ledge. I would have preferred a little more leeway in this area, but it’s a minor inconvenience that you will eventually become acclimated to.
Antipole is a solid choice if you’re in the market for a quick and inexpensive side-scroller. The Playstation Generation might be turned off by its throwback approach, but more seasoned gamers will appreciate the game for that exact reason. A satisfying challenge, solid controls and an appropriately classic sound track make Antipole an attractive little package.