Dec 27, 2012
Take an endless runner, a genre with plenty of fun entries, and mix it with Ikaruga. That sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Polara, the endless-runner-meets-Ikaruga game I’m referring to is thankfully a brilliant little title.
The story has players controlling Lara, the conveniently-named heroine who uses a government-provided power suit that can switch between blue and red, in order to navigate the defenses that keep the lower class away from the upper class. Really. It turns out the upper class are kind of jerks, and seemingly killed her dad, so she rebels and runs to help the lower class resistance. Karl Marx would be proud.
So, in running through the game’s levels, players must jump and switch between the red and blue colors in order to survive and advance. The use of the colors is what gets ingenious, as it applies to many different mechanics. There’s the ability to absorb the same-colored bullets and lasers that come through. Platforms and jump pads are enabled and disabled based on which color the player is. Gravity switches around in some spots. Hexagonal gears pop up, which will kill the player if they are the wrong color, but get launched into the air otherwise, and serve as the way to defeat bosses.
It’s not just that the game uses the color-switching, it’s that it uses it well. It challenges the player not just to react but to also think about what they need to be doing. The wrinkle thrown in is that the game is perfectly willing to subvert its patterns, where players may react based on instinct to switch colors but actually don’t need to do so. And even then, when the game plays it straight, it can still be challenging to figure out the proper sequence of jumps in order to survive. The game is rather brilliant, and its tricks don’t get old, though it does get extremely challenging. Yet, it isn’t frustrating because of very frequent checkpoint placement.
The game also boasts plenty of replay value: there’s the quest for zero deaths in a level, and replays add collectible letters, and a secret icon that’s rather challenging to collect. A randomized endless mode gets unlocked, and collecting the icons and letters in other levels unlocks new modes.
Polara is one of the best recent examples I’ve seen of a game having a simple-yet-effective premise, and truly delivering on it. This couldn’t have been much better.