ginger-boss-jump-feat

REVIEW / Ginger: Beyond the Crystal (PS4)

 

The platformer genre isn’t the happy, brightly-colored place it used to be. With the rise of spectacular, albeit dark, thoughtful and challenging, games like Inside and Limbo, the bright and sparkly collect-a-thons we grew up with seem to be fading into obscurity. However, the unbridled success of Yooka-Laylee’s Kickstarter has seemingly launched simple, fun platforming games back into the forefront. I can only imagine that the creation of Ginger: Beyond the Crystal was an answer to this success and the long gap between any similar games since the PS2 generation.

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Ginger: Beyond the Crystal,developed by BadLand Games and Drakhar Studios, focuses on the titular character, Ginger. She is a young, blue… thing, who has a special connection with the  goddess of his universe. Following a deliberate act of tampering  with the world’s energy source, a giant crystal, an explosion occurs and the three worlds are thrown into chaos. Buildings have been destroyed, villagers are missing (or dreadfully unhappy) and there’s nasty red crystals everywhere where there should be blue ones.

Ginger is tasked with fighting her way through enemies, collecting small crystals (basically currency), changing big red crystals back to blue ones, rescuing all the inhabitants from each of the three worlds, bringing each world’s villager happiness up to 100% through rebuilding, fulfilling quests and more. Along the way, through rescuing lost villagers or maxing out villager rescues and happiness in a town, Ginger will acquire new outfits with different effects (e.g. a mouse outfit that allows her to shrink down and move through small passages or a bard outfit that lets her play magical songs on a guitar).

 

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Let’s talk interface, to start. The menu is simple, crisp and clean. It’s pretty and matches the natural look of most of the environments in the early game. Likewise, the overlay is unobtrusive in that most of the time only Ginger’s health bar and number of held crystals are visible in the top left corner of the screen. When the player idles, your building material inventory will slide into view from the right-hand side of the screen, but goes away when you move again.
My only niggle is that the button input can lag a little, meaning that menu page changes can be a bit delayed and slow. Conversations with NPCs can be skipped with the touchpad if you’ve read them before, but it seems you can only progress through conversation quickly with the X button now and then. This sometimes means that you have to sit and wait through ‘voiced’ (characters speak gibberish like in Okami) sections long after the voice acting has ceased. This can be quite frustrating and may also have something to do with button input not being optimized or just standard lag.

 

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Moving on to visuals, my opinion changed over the course of the game. At first I was pleased by the colorful, squishy-looking environments and pretty little particle effects when you picked up your currency crystals. The animation appeared smooth, even when many villagers were rescued and pottering around the area at any given time. I was also able to interact with different parts of the environment, like jumping onto mushrooms which would depress and make noise in response, or knocking over piles of giant books. These little touches made the environments much more enjoyable and memorable.

Furthermore, with each new area there are new enemies and obstacles, and in particular it’s really nice to see a lot of old staples like snapping plant enemies and spike floors. However, once I moved into the second world, which had a variety of filters in place such as ever-present fog, magical barriers and so many goddamn frog enemies, the frame rate hit the floor and you could almost hear the game groaning and creaking as it tried to load the hub world after returning from one of the portal levels.  The load times between areas were also pretty long, but not long enough that it was a serious problem. However, a more impatient gamer may find those waits unacceptable.

 

I got this trophy after killing 50 frogs. If only they went away entirely after that.

Something else that became more of an issue in the second hub world was camera angles. While most of the areas you visited in hub world one were either very open or side-scrolling with limited small spaces, In particular, a later portal level where you are exploring a haunted mansion posed the largest problem, wherein the camera would fix itself on the roof of a doorway when I was attempting to deal with some enemies I knew were in the next room. In some parts of the game, large obstacles are kind enough to become mostly transparent so that you can see through to what you’re doing just ahead, but in this case it became an incredibly annoying, janky experience trying not to die.

Another issue was the fact that enemies (particularly those damn frogs) can seemingly clip through whatever they please in their quest to kill you. This resulted in a number of deaths where I had jumped to safety on a higher platform, in hopes that the frog would either leave me alone, get stuck on the wall or follow me up to my new location, but instead it ran through the solid platform I was standing on and killed me by way of headbutting me through a solid surface I was unable to retaliate through. Again, this only seemed to be a problem once I hit the second world.

 

Thank you. Yup. I can see what I'm doing.

Thank you. Yup. I can see what I’m doing.

That said, even in the earlier levels I found that hit detection was a bit hit and miss. This goes for both enemies and interactive objects in the world, like dive bomb-able buttons on the ground. Sometimes I could be right on top of a button or directly next to an enemy and whatever action I took simply wouldn’t connect. This led to at least a couple of deaths where I was carefully budgeting my one remaining unit of health and really should have lived to see another day, but instead had to traipse back from the checkpoint after somehow missing an enemy directly below me.

Hit detection was a real pain with the first boss at the end of the original hub world, as the battle was fought in a small area that was essentially a straight line. Where time is of the essence and sneaking a hit before getting pummeled is of the utmost importance, basically rubbing your face up against the boss’ leg and still not managing to land a hit can be positively infuriating. While we’re on the subject of the first boss (at the time of writing  I have not encountered the second hub world’s boss), Ginger: Beyond the Crystal let me down by ditching the standard old platformer tenant of “three attacks followed by vulnerability”.

 

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The boss’ first wave of attacks comprised of three attempts to assault me, after which he became vulnerable to attacks. Following this, his next wave consisted of five hits before he left himself open to another smack. The third and final wave had at least six (I didn’t count as I was trying not to die) attacks before his shields were down. There’s no rule that says that the game can’t do this, but I crave that consistency that I’ve come to expect from old platformers, BadLand Games!

In addition to the aforementioned issues with hit detection, Ginger’s attacks don’t feel particularly satisfying to use when they do hit. This is a difficult feeling to explain, but his overhead dive bomb attack mentioned earlier was really the only attack that felt like it really did anything. Ginger’s quick attack where he swiftly launches himself at enemies just feels like he passes through them and they realize a moment later that they’ve been hit. Likewise, his standard attack doesn’t feel like it hits at all, and instead the enemies just assume they’ve been taken out and crumple to the ground because the little blue guy swung his fist just close enough to them.

 

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On a more positive note, non-battle controls are an absolute treat. Ginger’s little walk cycle is very cute and he’s fun to steer around the different areas. Ginger is also automatically set to start running, complete with little blue speed trails either side of him, after a short uninterrupted trek, which is also fun to play with. Jumping and double jumping feel good, and the platforming sections don’t suffer from excessive floatiness. Overall, general movement and platforming leave the player feeling like they actually have tight control over their character, although I have had at least a couple of instances where I swear I’ve fallen through the very, very edge of platforms when running through bonus levels. However, that may have just been my own incompetence rather than an actual issue with the game. As it stands, despite other frame rate problems and glitches, I’ve only fallen through the ground once, and that’s on par with inFamous, so I can’t complain too much there.
I really liked the addition of Ginger’s outfits, all with their own special abilities. The first three seemed quite different from one another – using a guitar to repeat a song to open a path with the bard outfit, sneaking into small spaces with the mouse outfit and breathing fire in the…”something green and pointy, maybe a dragon?” outfit. However, one of the later outfits, which turns you into a bat to transfer you to another area,  might as well be a palette swap of the mouse outfit. However, for a simple game like this that may just be a personal niggle. The progressive addition of new skills over time reminded me a lot of Spyro, especially considering you then have to return to old levels to pick up items you missed when you didn’t have the correct skill. I really liked this mechanic, and since the backtracking wasn’t irritating, it acted as a dose of painless nostalgia.
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As I mentioned earlier, in addition to collecting crystals, you can also collect constantly respawning materials such as wood, cloth and stone which you can use to rebuild houses and buildings in each town. I really liked the rebuilding aspect because it had a tangible effect on the villagers, as it raised their happiness. When you wander around a hub area, if you get close enough to villagers they will indicate their current mood to you with a little dialogue and a smiley face or unhappy face. When you first start rescuing villagers but haven’t built any houses (or bought any weird accessories at the shop for them to wear), their happiness is low and almost all of them will be extremely depressed and asking what went wrong or will simply tell you “I am sad”.

 

ginger-sad-villager

Look, I built you a smithy, what more do you want?

 

When you start to rebuild proper, and buy them silly witch’s noses and sunglasses to wear (because again, why not?), most villagers will greet you happily and let you know that you’re a hero or how great things are. However, as with everything else I like about the game, here comes a downside. Perhaps it’s just that at 50% game completion I haven’t had an opportunity to find out what effects the different building types may hold, but with a wide variety of buildings such as Council, Magic School, Farm and Smithy, you would expect certain bonuses, skills or villager types to arise like in something similar to Little King’s Story. However, as it is presently, the only variation between the building types is their appearance and the % happiness they increase when built. It seems strange to have all these wonderfully designed buildings with no real incentive to make sure you have one of each in every town – it makes one question why they would stray from allowing you to just make standard houses with different capacity limits.

If you find yourself needing more materials or simply wanting to get rid of the little yellow exclamation marks on your compass, you can perform quests for villagers which will pop up over time until they are all completed. Villagers will usually reward Ginger with construction items like wood and rock, which are super valuable for the aspiring blue city planner. Quests could stand to be a bit more varied, however, as most of them amount to “collect three of X” fetch quests and ‘races’ where you have to follow blue lights around a predetermined path in a certain time limit (again, this is similar to the old ‘fly through the rings’ challenges in Spyro). I had no issue completing all the quests because they’re fast and offer good rewards, but they could use a bit of variation.

 

ginger-quest

Moving on to music, I return to my comparison of Ginger: Beyond the Crystal with Banjo-Kazooie (and through that, Yooka-Laylee). I barely got a chance to play Banjo-Kazooie as a kid due to a lack of any Nintendo products finding their way into my house, but I have since watched others play through the game and enjoyed the OST on numerous occasions. On that note, I can say that the music is so, so similar to that of Banjo-Kazooie, and that is absolutely a point in the game’s favor. It fits perfectly with the colorful visuals and gameplay, particularly during the speedy, high-stakes bonus levels, and has been perfectly crafted to fit with the game generally. Likewise, all of the sound effects are perfectly matched with Ginger’s actions and the vocal sound bites are also well-matched with the enemies, villagers and Ginger.

Before summing up, I would like to make a statement about difficulty level. There are two difficulty options: normal and old-school hard. I started on old-school hard, obviously, because what kind of old-school platformer lover would I be if I didn’t do that? Truthfully the game itself isn’t any harder on hard than it is on normal…except for the lack of checkpoints. That said, the tutorial still teaches you how checkpoints work, and checkpoints are still present (and to be fair, they do heal you fully when you approach them), but what the game fails to mention is that on hard mode, checkpoints don’t actually return you to that spot when you die. No, you go back to the start of the level.

 

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Due to lack of information about this in the tutorial I had no idea, and I delayed the publishing of this review so that I could find out what went wrong. Turns out this is by design, and I had to hang my head in shame and choose normal if I was ever going to finish this review or the game at all. I finished Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee with limited checkpoints at age six and yet I couldn’t do this. Consider yourself warned, even if the warning is that I just suck at Ginger: Beyond the Crystal.

To summarise, I still believe that this game is capitalising on the resurgence of the pure 3D platformer genre (again, thank you Yooka-Laylee), and that’s not a bad thing. Despite the many, many flaws I pointed out, Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is a really solid platforming game. If you play the game you will find yourself limited and frustrated at times, but I’m genuinely interested in finishing the game with 100% completion.

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Ginger: Beyond the Crystal isn’t as polished as games like Crash Bandicoot 2, Spyro and Banjo-Kazooie, but it holds the same charm that all those games offered. You may note that I didn’t talk much about the plot, and that’s because it’s so simple, just like all of the aforementioned early titles, that it doesn’t merit mentioning. Games like this aren’t here to tell a story, they’re here to offer a good time to players of all ages, and it accomplished just that, albeit in a janky way.

 

 

 

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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