TREASURE ADVENTURE GAME / Robit Studios / PC
 
 
Treasure Adventure Game shares a lot of common ground with An Untitled Story, another indie freebie Metroidvania that I played just a little over a year before this one. Unfortunately, like An Untitled Story, I didn't like it enough to finish it, and I wasn't nearly in the orgasmic raptures over it that freeware bloggers and forum posters seem to be. And it's for the exact same reason - adherence to Mario ROM Hack Mentality, which seems to be singlehandedly ruining every indie game that has any kind of platforming elements at all these days.

If you're not familiar with Mario ROM hacks, basically people take the old 2D Mario games and use various programs that are like level editors, which allow you to rearrange the entire game and make new levels with a simplified WYSIWYG type of interface. The culture that has grown out of this - for whatever reason - seems to be constant one-upsmanship in making these masochistic, pixel-perfect-perfectionist trials by fire. This is a definite Thing at this point, as evidenced by the popularity of Super Meat Boy, which was the first commercial title to opportunistically cash in on the trend and make it part of its core design. The sole reason why Mario ROM Hacks are playable at all, however, are because they are played in emulators that nearly always have "save state" functionality; cultists of Mario simply hammer the F7 key over and over and over and over at these ridiculous parts until they manage to pull it off, then repeat at the next insanely difficult section. Games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV took note of this and each accounted for it in their own way; Meat Boy simply has one-screen levels that you can restart instantly and infinitely, while VVVVVV is divided into screens that you respawn on right away.

This "hardcore extremist" type of jumping-puzzle design doesn't work nearly as well when you port it into a different framework; say, a Metroidvania where save points are more few and far between, and death at some frustrating point means a lot of walking and fiddly jumping to get back to where you were and give it another crack. To be fair, Treasure Adventure Game isn't wall-to-wall bullshit in the manner of, say, an I Wanna Be The Guy; those moments are actually relatively few and far between. But they're there, and they're stuck right in your road, mandatory to progress. When you run into one, whatever charm and joy the game had to that point really just goes right down the toilet.

It's a shame because it does everything else very well; understated but colorful and pleasant graphics with some nice and surprising background flourishes, solid gameplay (setting aside the more finicky and aggravating jumping puzzles), and an interesting sort of aesthetic fusion of Earthbound and Wind Waker wherein you traverse a chain of many small islands seeking all the shiz you need to seek. I really do see a lot of potential here and wish Robit the best; this is the guy's first full-length game, after all. I always worry about how all these blogs and whatnot overpraise efforts like this that are "indie" and "free", and that maybe the designers will think that their first efforts are good enough and get stuck in mediocrity for the rest of their career (or try their hand at a commercial release and suddenly slam into an unexpected wall of much more rigorous criticism once people are actually expected to pay monies for their work.) So I say all this not to put these designers down, but encourage them to step their games up, and analyze the flaws and weaknesses in their own work and improve, even if hundreds of people are already lining up to give them internet blowjobs after their first Flash game. Also could we maybe stop calling ourselves "Studios" when it's just one guy in his bedroom. I honestly don't see how putting the word "studio" in your name lends any real cachet to your work, but it seems like everyone insists on doing it anyway. OK, rant over. Decent effort Robit, but fiddly pixel-perfect jumping contests are shit design that needs to stay buried in the '80s and '90s unless your name is Miyamoto, come back stronger next time with less of that.
 
 
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