Instead of fending off aliens, demons and general apocalypse scenarios, BEEP’s humanity of the future focuses on sending little robots to do something productive, like exploration. These little robots are called BEEPs and they have various functions to aid them in their never-ending quest to explore the Cosmos. They can drive up some walls, they can swim, they have a spiffy pellet gun and a gravity gun.
BEEP is a game that lies between some really good execution and some really bad design choices. It’s a real shame that some of the design choices that are my gripe with the game are the first things you encounter. What primarily struck me as odd was the lack of any proper options. I can live without a launcher before the game starts and sometimes even look past a lack of an “options” screen in the main menu, but when I can’t do anything in-game either, it becomes a problem. Mouse sensitivity and sound/music volume sliders are not enough. Things like button mapping, resolution settings and so on are necessary for any PC game.
What I was actually looking for was the “set to windowed mode” function since I play all my non-horror games like that. The level select screen had a transparent message in the corner saying “F11 for windowed mode” and while it did do what it said on the tin, you had to drag it Windows interface style to resize it. To top it off, playing in windowed mode destroyed my framerate and platforming was impossible in those conditions.
It may seem snobbish to go right for the technical problems of a game before even mentioning anything about the actual gameplay, but it’s one of the first things you encounter. It not only gives a bad first impression, but it doesn’t let you play the game the way you are comfortable with. That’s sometimes enough for people to not even bother with the rest of it.
But if you were to drop the game due to all of this, you’d be missing out on some of the best physics I’ve seen in a platformer in a while. I’m not talking about Sonic physics where the movement of the character is the focus, but rather your character’s interaction with the world. It’s rare for a game these days to have almost everything work like you expect it to. Even the most basic shooters have you try out a weapon to see the effects, but BEEP makes it obvious what you can and can’t do from the start. The only thing you are told about the gravity gun is that it moves downed enemies and objects. And that’s what it does. It does it really well.
You can move objects as long as they are within screen range and, if you are creative, some of the solutions will be very satisfying. For example, the first thing I tried when downing an enemy was to grab it, hold it in the air, jump, and then place it right under my BEEP and jump off the enemy. It’s a trick that worked and one that made a lot of sections easier for me. You can drag explosive enemies and detonate them near some enemies or objects. You can use enemies as a shield. Pretty much almost all object interaction in the game is as expected and, while not particularly challenging for more experienced gamers you’re rarely frustrated with interaction in the game world.
That is not to say that the gameplay as a whole is not without some strange choices of its own. I think the most puzzling one was the pellet gun. You have infinite ammo, but a limited amount of bullets per clip. The problem is that reloading is instant, thus if you were to just make it a habit of mashing “R” while shooting, you’d ignore the existence of the clips. It all just seems unnecessary.
The level selection screen is also an offender. This might have easily just been me, but it took me 4 minutes upon entering the screen to find the first level. You start off with your spaceship in a small galaxy, just thrown there. The nearest planet is the last world, which is, of course, locked. The fact that all the planets rotate around the sun didn’t make it any easier finding them. After the first two times, I figured out the pattern, but just getting to a level shouldn’t be that much of a hassle. A Super Mario World type screen would have offered enough interactivity combined with functionality.
The actual levels are nicely done, both aesthetically and mechanic wise. There are six worlds in total, each with four levels. The worlds have a gimmick or mechanic specific to them and they are introduced bit by bit in every level, just enough to keep your interest until you hit the next level. In each stage, you need to collect three big shiny things and all the little shiny things if you want a fourth big shiny. This inevitably leads to backtracking when you miss something and it’s usually not that stressful. I have only encountered one little shiny object which was hidden from sight in the game. There were only two gripes with the actual level design. One was that some levels made it impossible to backtrack, thus you had to replay the whole level if you missed anything, or just die on purpose. The other was the final section in the final level which was precision platforming hell. And missing a jump meant either dying, or in the case that you didn’t die, needing to do so on purpose.
As said in the previous paragraph, the level aesthetics are nice. This is true for the whole game. The music fits the levels, the level design fits in nicely with the enemy design and nothing really stands out. The presentation is something I’m on the fence over. On one hand, the whole plot seems like an “excuse plot,” which I don’t mind. It’s a valid choice. On the other hand, the game seems to stay minimalistic in some regards, but is not sure whether to go all the way. To elaborate, there are certain platforms which give tutorial explanations and “what BEEP is thinking”. These are done as small snippets of text. I’m not sure about this one, but I think the game would have benefited much more with doing away with any text whatsoever (aside from the menus, of course). The tutorial messages could have been shown as thought bubbles with pictures only, for example. It would have fit well with the rest of the aesthetics much more in my opinion. And BEEP would have been far cuter with R2D2 beeps rather than high-pitched one-liners.
I’d recommend BEEP to any platformer fan or as a gift to people who like games, but just play them on and off. I also believe it’s a good investment for parents to buy for their children. I have no trouble picturing a parent and child playing together, one controlling and the other directing the actions.
Developer: Big Fat Alien
Genre: Physics platformer
Time: 4 hours
Gripes: Lack of technical options and some design choices
Get it for the: Excellent physics
Full disclosure: PXOD received a review copy from Big Fat Alien. The game was played to full completion, collecting all big shiny things on the first playthrough.