Dead Cells is still my go-to “just one quick game” on the Nintendo Switch, but the recent releases of Tetris 99 and Octahedron: Transfixed Edition will both threaten its place. Octahedron (as I will now call it) from Demimonde, is a colourful and energetic platformer, where you are in control of placing your own platforms. Combined with devilishly tricky level design and a thumping, pulsating soundtrack, Octahedron looks like it ticks all the boxes for the type of game I look for in my handheld gaming.
So, what makes Octahedron stand out in the platformer genre? To start with, the design can be summed up in two words, Retro and Neon. Add to that the pumping, chiptune soundtrack and you have a game that’s really pleasing to both the eyes and ears. The screen can get busy sometimes, especially in later levels, but it never detracts from the experience. The gameplay is the other area where Octahedron excels, as the main mechanic of making your own platforms is only just scratching the surface of what this game offers. The first few levels break you in slowly, getting you used to using your two platforms to traverse through the level, onwards and upwards towards the exit. By the third level you meet lifts that shoot you upwards – as long as you build a platform on it – and teleporters that transport you to other areas of the level – again, as long as you build a platform on it. Do you see the theme here? This continues through the 50+ levels, some of them will see you start with 10 platforms at your disposal, some will have areas where bird like creatures will attack you when you are happily jumping and building through a section, causing you to adopt a speedier strategy. None of these mechanics are actually explained to you, meaning a lot of trial and error to work out exactly whats going on! Of course there are permanent platforms already present in the level, but some of these are also affected by your movements. Again, some only become active when you place one of your platforms, meaning you will need to carefully plan your moves to coincide with their on/off status. Some will only become active once you have walked to the right of the screen, and will deactivate as you then use them to jump upwards whilst moving back to the left. It’s also possible to “ride” your platform by holding down the button after you’ve built it, which does make things a little easier in some situations.
In addition to this there are some enemies. Some will kill you as you jump over them, and can be thwarted with a well placed platform. Some enemies are electrical pulses that patrol the platform outlines. Touch them and it’s another life lost. And of course there are the collectables. There are flowers to pick up, light bulbs to break (by building a platform on them) and sneaky little arrows that are placed well out of your normal patch, creating a risk/reward decision on whether you actually attempt to go after them. Of course, once the level is completed you will see a breakdown of how you have performed, pushing you to replay the level in order to get that higher score.
Octahedron can be a hard game. Its certainly not Super Meat Boy levels of hard, but its tough going at times. It requires pinpoint execution of a series of moves in order to successfully complete the level, with one small wrong move generally leading to a fall back to the start. There are places to stop and rest thankfully, before you set off again! There are no unlimited lives either. Lose them and all progress in that level will be lost. It does feel unfair at times, but I think this has more to do with the limitations of the Joy-cons rather than the game design. Sometimes it feels like the controller just lets you down at certain precise moments. My advice is to go straight into the settings and change the button layout as well. I couldn’t get on with having jump on B and then platform building on ZR. I swapped this to B and A, which helped immensely.
Octahedron does have a few flaws. As I mentioned, it is a difficult game, which is unfortunately made even more difficult whilst playing it on the small Switch screen. It really is a game more suited to dock mode whilst connected to a big TV. At times I struggled to complete levels whilst in handheld mode but then sailed through them (somewhat) when I transferred to the big screen. The precision in which some platforms need building to make that successful sequence of moves is much easier on a TV. There is also a strange attempt at a story, which really wasn’t needed. When a platformer gets the gameplay right there is really no need to shoehorn in a plot. Another strange issue occurred when re-trying a level from sleep mode, as it seemed to quicken the level environment whilst slowing down my movement. It could be a bug, or could be a gameplay feature that punishes you the longer it takes you to finish the level, as in effect the game could still think you are playing whilst you are away. Either way it requires a level restart to fix
However, these small issues don’t detract from the quality that Octahedron possesses. It is a great puzzle platformer that has been designed really well. It’s a great game for those short play bursts – it delivers on that “just one more go” feeling. Its really satisfying once you get into the flow of playing, and realise that the soundtrack drives the cadence of your movement. It really does need to be played on a large screen with a controller though!
Thanks to Demimonde for supporting Thumbstix!