When the power goes out, what's the first thing you do? Reach for your phone and continue browsing the internet uninhibited… or step outside to look at the stars?
I'm definitely guilty of reaching for my phone on occasions, but I also happen to live in the Welsh countryside where stars are stalwart sentinels in my night sky (weather permitting!). So if TurnOn does one thing, it's to make the player realize that we spend far too much time indoors, if that isn't irony?
Inspired by the global event Earth Hour held by WWF, developer Brainy Studio LLC put together a game about light in a dark time, how light brings security and entertainment, but how all the light we produce also blocks out the most natural lights of all: the stars.
The premise of 'platform game without platforms' TurnOn is simple: the electricity in Electro City has failed at the power station (Sector 7-G I'm looking at you), and a friendly alien wants to help to bring the power back. Playing as the little electric alien spark, jump and fall between power lines to turn lights back on and energize the city while whimsical and uplifting piano music plays.
Sliding across power lines against a backdrop of unique skylines and sunsets, the gorgeously rich art style calls to mind the rustic feel of games like Fable, and despite being a game about a lack of light and power, is vibrantly colored, using restored light to guide and contrast.
There are various types of stages to play and collect lightning, solve problems for people by helping them power different items, re-activating security systems, freeing protestors, and lighting up sections of the city as you go.
The majority of this is done via exploration along power lines — hopping between them with a zap, going around buildings and houses, gaining points by turning on items such as lamps and air conditioning units. There is even a puzzle element by which you have to power units to open connecting paths or hovering power generators which move in different directions. After these stages, there are what I call 'panic' levels (instead of boss fights) in order to progress to the next part of the town.
Since there is no dialogue and no written on screen instruction, everything is presented in a comic book panel fashion, so it took me a couple of goes to understand what the game was asking me to do when it came to these 'panic levels'. Different scenarios require a varied approach, there could be a rogue drone flying around the neighborhood that you need to deactivate, or a Ferris Wheel malfunctioning and spewing damaging red lightning and green healing lightning that you could help fix.
These later phase stages in each area of the city help pace TurnOn well, beginning slowly to familiarize you with each area and their warm and calm designs, before building in pace with fast melodic sections, and hitting you with the areas ending 'panic stage'.
Traversing between the foreground and background maximizes the space to create a much larger area to play in, as lines can run between them, and routes can branch off in any direction, even beneath the street.
TurnUp the volume?
TurnOn is a lovely game to relax to, up until you get to the 'music levels', which are supposed to be rhythm based — I think — but slightly miss the mark. Where Rayman Legends was a good example of musical melee, jumps and collecting Lums to the tunes of various 'hits', TurnOn is much more conservative in that these segments of the game are not overly distracting. The collectables are spaced sparingly, and you may sometimes encounter trees or even a helicopter blocking your field of vision. The soundtrack may be beautifully composed and soothing music, but if it's supposed to be in time with the lit 'active' power lines, it's falling flat.
While the lit active wires seem to correspond with the length of a note of the music playing, the cues sometimes seemed way out of time, making for a stilted and jagged experience. Pray you don't drop off the wire because the level and the music starts over, which can get really tiresome to hear the same few bars over again. Unfortunately, this is a larger concern on these music levels than it is for any other, because there are no checkpoint generators to restart from, so you have to pass a certain point for you to begin again from there, and at certain times jumping to another wire seems impossible to time, causing me to just fall off in the most anticlimactic way.
While I definitely enjoyed the overall experience of playing TurnOn, it was marred from time to time by questionable collision detection, causing my Spark to hover with a benevolent little smile on his face a good way off from any kind of surface. While this was fixed by dropping back to the wire below, it happened often, causing me to fall to the ground if I wasn't above a wire and having to restart at a checkpoint, which was doubly frustrating when the music also repeated.
These things only dim TurnOn's appeal a fraction, as they are outshone by a warming story of helping others, observing how much energy we use and what we use it for, and remembering to go outside once in a while and appreciate the natural lights we have. Aww. TurnOn is a reasonably short experience clocking in at around five hours, but it is very generous with achievements, having unlocked 61 out of 82 in my one playthrough, and it's easy enough to go back and get the ones I missed.
Turn On is a mostly gentle platform game, with a soundtrack I'd listen to on a Sunday autumn evening.
- Gorgeous graphic style
- Original soothing compositional music
- Endearing long-term message
- Collision detection could be better
- Music restarting when you do is more than mildly annoying
- Occasional positional bugs occur later in the game
Small flaws only minorly detract from an otherwise uplifting and enjoyable game. While TurnOn is a game about restoring power, it also leaves us with the feeling that just once in a while, we should probably turn (everything) off, too.
This review was conducted on Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.