Binaries is a new puzzle platformer game developed by Ant Workshop, a small development team from Edinburgh. It's simple in its design and control, but so brutally difficult that if I wasn't using an Elite Xbox Controller, it would have gone through the window.
I've played some notably difficult games recently; games that have been created with the specific goal of making you sick with rage and frustration. Their executions are all very varied. For example, in 10 Second Ninja X you had to complete each level in 10 seconds. In Gear Gauntlet, near-perfect twitch controls are the difference between life and death. But the end result of them all is the same; sweaty palms, a well-used litany of profanities to fall back on and a deep and visceral urge to throw your controller at the nearest hard surface.
What the hell?
While those games are extremely difficult, Binaries might as well have tried to force you to evolve into two people to play simultaneously. Chameleons, with their independently-swiveling eyes, would be great at Binaries (if only they had the brain capacity and manual dexterity required). In Binaries, you control two sprites at the same time - Orange and Blue - and your goal is to get them to their respective goals. This is simple in the beginning: Orange and Blue simultaneously move in either direction and jump at the same time, and it gives you a gentle and comedic introduction into how to play the game.
Binaries is very much a game that likes to poke fun at itself, not even so much as by breaking the fourth wall, but there are hilarious self-awarenesses and thoughtfulness hidden behind a simple exterior. What Binaries does, or is attempting to do (in my opinion), is have a conversation with us about what games are. It pokes fun at itself by asking, "If this is an indie-game, where is the pixel art?" (see headline image), or "what themes are we an audience to?" Perhaps the point the Binaries devs are trying to make is that you don't need a certain art style or a theme to be a fun and engaging indie game.
There are 100 insanely difficult platform levels, and you control both Orange and Blue at the same time. The early levels are an introduction into the core mechanics, movement, jumping in tandem and invulnerability when coming into contact with spikes of the opposite color. Orange can go on blue spikes, and vice versa. It sounds pretty simple in execution, but just take a look at the screenshots and let those do the talking...
Each stage has three tiers of completion, but you only need to complete the stage to continue to the next, the second and third rank tiers are just for bragging rights. This is scored on how quickly it takes you to complete the level so I wouldn't be surprised if after about the first 15 levels or so, your times begin to start jumping much higher. As an additional taunt, there is also a retry counter at the top, to make you feel like even more of a massive loser when you're restarting almost every time you move. I stopped looking in that corner after I hit 29 retries; I just couldn't face my own inadequacies.
This might sound like it would be incredibly annoying, but that's the whole point of the game. To practice and perfect your control to such minute detail that you'll know exactly how to move and where to go with no trouble at all. If patience isn't your strong point or you're prone to launching controllers through the wall, you may want to get that in check before trying out Binaries — it will do nothing but constantly test your limits.
The game also only gets more difficult as you progress. If you've managed to somehow fling Orange and Blue into their goals with minimal effort, enjoy the glory now, because things get so much harder. If dual platforming wasn't already hard enough with each color having a different track, it only gets more teeth-gritting from there. You die on contact with anything that isn't a flat surface. Flying ninja stars on set paths may be simple enough to evade with one ball, but while you're not paying attention to Bluet, Orange is slipping off into a patch of spikes. Boop, start again.
In an interesting and thoughtful move, Ant Workshop designed Binaries so that when you're doing well, the music becomes more epic. During the moments when you're struggling and clearly need time to think, the music dials down in enthusiasm in order to help you think better. It's a nice touch. Despite Binaries obviously being a tremendously difficult game, the developers are also kind and scholarly gentlemen who want you to have a hard time, but not too hard.
The sighs of frustration and feet jiggling is also a pleasure to watch in other people as they play. If you're a little bit evil inside, pass the controller to someone else and watch them squirm for maximum karmic bonuses. Share the frustration, it's the only way to not go entirely mad.
- Vibrant and colorful
- Easy to control, simple design
- Funny and in some ways, thought provoking
- Real danger of broken controllers
This review was conducted on Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.