Review: CreaVures (PC)

CreaVures
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Muse Games
Publisher: Muse Games
Release Date: 02/23/2011

As a fan of the genre, I would like to say that there are not enough platformers on PC, or at least not enough good platformers. The golden days of Jazz Jackrabbit, Commander Keen and the original Duke Nukem are now long ago. Occasionally, you get something like Braid or Super Meat Boy, but most of the time, quality PC platform games are few and far between. This is why I try to stay calm when I receive such a game at home, even one that looks as promising as CreaVures.

Featuring an art style that gets your attention after the first glimpse (and an unnecessary capitalized letter in its title), CreaVures promises innovative gameplay and level design, and the trailer makes the entire package look exciting and new. It is thus with careful enthusiasm that I approached this indie game, while still thinking in the back of my mind that this could be the hidden gem that appears only once in a while.

Let’s see if CreaVures manages to hold up to the expectations.

STORY/MODES

The story here is pretty simple: The forest is losing its “essence of light,” making it look like everything is under a giant black light. You play as different cute animals that team together to bring the light back to their world. These animals have very straightforward names that makes it pretty easy to guess what is their respective special ability (Bitey the cat can bite, Pokey the porcupine can poke things, Glidey the bat can glide…), which will come in handy when navigating the numerous mazes and obstacles that populate the forest.

The story isn’t really developed beyond that, and the few cut scenes you get consist of your characters meeting a new friend that can help them on their quest. They mime stuff at each others and speak in their cute gibberish language, but that’s pretty much it. The storyline takes a backseat to the gameplay here, as is usually tradition in platformers.

As for the different modes… there is only one. The single-player mode is all that is offered here. No multiplayer mode, no time trial, no high scores, and no unlockables that I have found. All in all, this is a very barebones package.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

GRAPHICS

This is one of the places where the game truly shines. As I previously stated, the game has a “black light” look that makes the background as well as the characters very dark, while the outlines and the important things are bright and luminescent. Each level has its own atmosphere and flavor, with one particular color usually contrasting with the darkness – purple for the first world, green for the second one, etc. The result is surprisingly vibrant and unique, while still being easy on the eye. Despite my initial fears, it’s never hard to keep track of your character or enemies.

The characters are incredibly adorable, even the porcupine who seems to be chronically depressed. They all have unique animations which provide them with fun personalities despite the fact that they don’t talk or that you never really get to see them actively developing the story. Their design is cartoonish to the point where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish what kind of animals they are supposed to be, but everything here is done in the name of extreme cuteness. In that regards, the graphics are an absolute success, especially on the highest settings, where models become silky smooth and textures flawless.

Graphics Rating: Incredible

SOUND

The first word that comes to mind when I think of CreaVures soundtrack is “soothing”. There are multiple tracks in this game, and all of them are as pleasant and relaxing as the others. It also perfect fits the feel of the game, being cute and eerie at the same time. There is little voice acting in this game, and the only things the characters say are all gibberish, but it works well with this game. Every other sound effects are appropriate, equally adorable and effective in building CreaVures very unique charm.

Sound Rating: Great

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

The objective here is like in every other platformer in history: you need to make your way to the end of the level alive. In order to do so, you must solve puzzles using your different characters’ abilities. These puzzles are often clever and take advantage of the characters’ design to the max. You only start with one character, and the game throws a new one at you each time you get in a comfort zone, expanding the gameplay possibilities just as you thought you had seen it all. Some of the puzzles start repeating themselves near the end, but the variety is still very satisfying.

While navigating the levels, there are two types of objects that can be collected. The smaller light orbs are disposed in a way that shows you the correct path to go, but some of them are hidden out of reach or in secret areas that can only be discovered through exploring. The bigger light orbs are usually out of the way, worth more, and their number is consistent in each level. These levels are non-linear, with many different paths all leading to the same exit, but varying in difficulty and payoff in term of orbs. This game encourages exploration, and rewards such behavior generously.

As I have mentioned before, the game has five different characters which all bring something different to the table. You can only pick two characters at a time, and you can only swap them at save points. Fortunately, the save points are frequent enough to minimize backtracking in case you regret your choice of tandem when you get in front of a difficult puzzle.

The game also offers a couple of boss fights, which are a nice change of pace, and are also pretty imaginative to booth. For example, one of the fights involves a monster bigger than the screen throwing toxic goo at you while your characters are separated and trying to climb up to the end of the level without getting hit. The boss also affects the environment to make things more challenging. It’s a blast to play, and if I had anything bad to say about this concept, it’s that I would have taken even more boss fights if possible.

My biggest concern in this category are the weird controls. Instead of using the classical controls when it comes to computer games (the infamous WASD configuration), the game maps movements to the arrows and the actions to the left of the keyboard, forcing you to inverse what now feels like second nature to a lot of gamers. It takes a while getting used to, and sometimes it means slower reflexes and premature deaths. This would be a moot point if the option menu actually let you tinker with the configuration, but no, you are stuck with the default controls.

Still, there are a lot more positives than negatives in this category.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

REPLAYABILITY

Even though there are many characters to choose from, most puzzles need to be done with a particular combo. Otherwise, you need to search for an alternate route. Still, it’s these secret paths that make this game worth playing through at least twice, if you want to make sure you have experienced everything. Some of these alternate paths are really challenging and can change the entire feel of a level.

Once you are done with the main campaign however, there’s nothing you can do outside of improving your high scores on each world. I find it strange that a game which allows USB gamepads and which has a distinctly cooperative theme has no multiplayer mode, as the gameplay almost reminds me of Donkey Kong Country with both characters on screen at the same time.

In my opinion, this is a wasted opportunity.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

BALANCE

This game strikes the perfect balance between simplicity and challenge. The concept itself is immediately familiar for platformers fans, but the innovative level design always finds a way to make things interesting. Furthermore, the fact that the different characters are gradually introduced to the game means that there is a constant progression in terms of challenges and new skills to learn.

Balance Rating: Great

ORIGINALITY

The visuals are the best thing CreaVures has going on in terms or originality. They are both dark and pulsating at the same time, making the background feel alive in a way I have rarely seen in platformers. In terms of gameplay, the cooperative aspect shows shades of the Donkey Kong Country series and of the underrated Lost Vikings games. These types of puzzles in a platform game are nothing new, but the way it is presented here feels entirely fresh and fun.

Originality Rating: Above Average

ADDICTIVENESS

With most levels being more than reasonable in length, this game is a good example of the “just one more” syndrome. Having finished a level, you look at your watch and think “Wow, I could finish this one in ten minutes. I can do one more before going to bed.” It is all very fun until you realize that it is now 1:30 am and that you work in a little over five hours.

Thankfully for me, the game is relatively short, so I didn’t have to lose too many nights over this. It’s not something that will ruin your life, but it is dangerously addictive.

Addictiveness Rating: Very Good

APPEAL FACTOR

While platformers on PC used to be very popular in the 90’s, the genre has been pushed aside recently, and I don’t know if the market for such a game really is that big. I, for one, welcome PC platform games with open arms, but the reality is that this is now a genre which is almost an exclusive of the indie community. I can see this becoming a nice success with its intended audience, but I don’t see CreaVures becoming a breakout mainstream game.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

MISCELLANEOUS

One very good thing about this game is that it offers a very enjoyable experience for 10$. It’s a short game, but for the price tag, the amount of content is just right.

I am also pleased to say that I haven’t seen a lot of bugs within the game outside of a couple of hit detection issues which frustrated me for a second of two. Sometimes, my characters had trouble gripping the vines in order to swing to the other side of a chasm. They just seemed to pass right through it, and straight into the hole. Fortunately, the game spawns you right back at the last save point, and these points are frequent.

Let’s finish with this very small problem: the names of pretty much everything here is generic as can be, which is weird considering how much effort was put in designing a compelling world with cute characters. These characters are named Bitey, Pokey, Zappy, or basically any other names a kid could come up with to give his pets. The levels are titled “The Top of the forest,” “The forest floor,” etc. It’s not a deal breaker by any mean, but it feels strange that everything in CreaVures is named in the most standard way when there was so much work that went into making the rest of the game feel unique.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

THE RATINGS

Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Great
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal: Decent
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
CreaVures is a creative platformer that is worth the time of any fan of the genre. Despite the sometimes awkward controls, it proves that side-scrollers on PC can still be fun and sleek. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a good effort for a new franchise. Here’s hoping that we eventually get a sequel, even more polished, with more levels, new characters and even more boss fights. CreaVures is a more satisfying product than many mainstream platformers, and it has a reasonable price to boot.