There have been a handful of retro-style games released lately and C.A.R.L. fits squarely into that pixelrific crowd with a strong performance. From start up one is greeted with nostalgic green screen CRT-style boot up sequence that some of us spent hour after hour staring at through the years. From there it bursts with color and playability with a nice little story to boot.
While real retro platform games often had a simple story C.A.R.L. goes a step further and updates that old school storytelling with some new elements, but not at the expense of the retro feel. But we’re here to talk about the game itself and while the story elements are appreciated, it’s the game itself that’s the main focus.
The game is fun and challenging with a variety of hazards, environment and gameplay elements. It should appeal to old school platform fans of all stripes.
Bright, colorful and pixel perfect one might say. The environments and character models are great. The levels are each themed with both foreground and background graphics that, had the controller been less comfortable, might have one thinking they’re back in the late 80s. There is variation between levels and cohesion across stages in the same levels. This also translates into gameplay.
The gameplay consists of standard run, jump, shoot mechanics that harken back to the heyday of the Mega Man series in its 8-bit glory. Fortunately, it’s not that brutal in terms of needing to find the last pixel you can stand on to make a specific jump. There are some tough spots though, so don’t think it’s a cakewalk. There’s an ample assortment of environmental dangers as well as enemies dead set on making you dead. The pressure is definitely on during some stages. If you look below you can see that timing is key as the maroon portion of the level is moving up and down. There are other levels where buzzsaw blades are chasing you across the screen and those are some of the most challenging.
The game is frustratingly challenging at times yet still fun. A design element I especially appreciated was the multiple save points as it gave one hope they would reach that before whatever environmental hazard got them before long. Sure, I murdered a lot of CARLs along the way… I mean A LOT. However, it wasn’t out of frustration, just out of learning the proper paths and how to avoid the hazards. I definitely appreciated the endless lives as a game should be about playing and fun and not about having to restart it over and over. Restarting at the save points was far less disheartening than starting an entire level over after every death.
Along the way there are numerous collection mechanics in the game, new songs for the jukebox, blueprints for upgrades, power increases for weapons, expanded health, and even a retro mini-arcade that can earn you scrap which is used as the game’s currency for upgrades.
Just like the TL;DR said, it’s fun yet challenging. The graphics are retroesque, the gameplay is varied and interesting and the environments and character models are cohesive. It all tells a story and makes one want to continue playing in order to achieve completion. It’s certainly a platformer worthy of being in everyone’s collection. While I did not finish the game for this review I will probably go back to it now and again to continue progressing when I’ve got the time.
Co-developed by Andrew Kenady (Twitter: @Nintendrew_ and Morningstar Game Studio.