I just want to preface this review by saying that I have played my share of precision platformers, and am a rabid fan of both Super Meat Boy and N+. Why do I feel the need to flaunt my pedigree, you ask? Because I did not entirely love this game, and many proponents of these types of games tend to dismiss criticism based on the argument of 'If you didn't like it, you need to git gud m8'. That being said, this game is targeting a very specific audience, and it hits that target rather well. It just didn't click with me.
Ready for the juicy stuff? Time to dive in.
STANDBY is an action platformer developed by Noclip and published by HypeTrain Digital, currently available on Steam for $7.99.
The closest thing STANDBY has to a story is this sentence from the Steam store page: "Challenge your reaction in this fast-paced game and get out of the glitched world." That's it. You play a man in a hat wielding a gun, and you need to get through the levels. I find it perplexing the developers even bothered adding a line of vague context to the store page, seeing as the actual game itself has ZERO mention of who you are or why you must jump, slide, and shoot your way through 54 levels, gathering all the collectibles along the way. Obviously, a game such as this doesn't require an Oscar-winning script, but even Super Meat Boy told the simplistic story of rescuing your band-aid girlfriend from a mustached villain. So while STANDBY doesn't lose any points for not having a story, the fact that there was more context for your actions in the advertisement of the game than the game itself is very strange to me.
If you've taken even a passing interest in STANDBY, this should be your major (and possibly only) concern, which means I'm going to tear it apart piece by piece like an angry, confused gorilla. The gameplay in STANDBY is fairly straight-forward. You have a gun for shooting apart obstacles, a slide move for mobility and surviving red hot surfaces, and a ground-pound for both breaking and dodging hazards. You use these moves in various combinations in order to best the game's 54 levels, split across six sections. Simple, right? Well, the first few levels are. After a brief introductory period that lasts about five minutes, the difficulty takes a rather, shall we say, 'mild upswing.'
In most games, the difficulty curve should start low, then gradually become more challenging as it throws tougher and tougher obstacles at you. In STANDBY, the difficulty spike doesn't really resemble a curve so much as the letter J, as the game throws new elements into the mix (i.e. lasers, boulders, portals, etc.) at a frightening pace. If you're the type of hardcore, competitive platformer who enjoys getting an immediate curb-stomp to your ego, this probably isn't a problem for you. Personally, I found the sudden shift in difficulty a little jarring and suffered a bit of an adjustment period before progressing more steadily.
As far as the control scheme goes, it works, but in a weird fustercluck sort of way. If you're playing with an Xbox controller (which I heartily recommend for this game), all you need is the left stick, and the A and X buttons. The reason I say fustercluck is that to jump, all you have is the A button. Sliding, firing your gun, and ground-pounding are all relegated to the X button. As I said, eventually I found a rhythm, but sometimes that just isn't enough, given the amount of precision the game demands of the player. The slightest bit of awkwardness with the control scheme usually results in a quick death and having to restart the entire level. Thankfully it only takes a brief moment to respawn, which is crucial to when a game is this difficult.
If you remember as far back as the beginning of this review, I said I wasn't exactly throwing this game against the picnic blanket, frantically tearing at its clothes. Figuring out why I didn't love STANDBY took a bit of thought, and I think it has to do with the feel of the game if that makes any sense. If you've ever played Super Meat Boy, you'll know that even after you jump, you still have a small amount of agency in terms of how you fall through the air. Making slight adjustments as you fall is a crucial part of platforming accuracy. In STANDBY, once you jump, that's the direction you're going, and damn it you're going to like it. This game requires that you play it a very specific way, which I find interesting considering the 'speed-running' demographic it's clearly courting (there is a literal speed-run mode/leaderboard in the main menu). The best speed run games are usually more open-ended, leaving players to creatively find the most efficient route through the chaos. To be so restrictive in its level design while seeking such a specific audience is interesting, to say the least.
It may sound like I'm ragging on it, but for the most part, the gameplay of STANDBY is very competently executed. Aside from a few personal gripes with it, I found chaining together the perfect combination of jumps and slides resulted in more than a few aggressive yells of victory, and the feeling of accomplishment from conquering a particularly difficult level is not to be understated.
Graphics and sound
As you can see from the screenshots, this is a game with a very simplistic art style, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The colors are bright and vibrant, relying mostly on the 'primary' part of the color wheel. Most of the assets present are simple, polygonal shapes that twist and turn to make up the pathing of each level. The particles and explosions created by destroying obstacles with your gun create some neat visual flairs that blend nicely with the rest of the visual design.
The game runs very fluidly and doesn't require a monster of a rig to run it at optimal settings. All in all, there's not much else to really discuss in terms of graphics. This isn't a complaint, as the gameplay is what's on display. Although I can't help but feel there's a bit of wasted opportunity to add further stylistic changes to differentiate the different sections. The backgrounds change from section to section, but I feel there is much-untapped potential in the endless black space your character runs on for the majority of the game.
The sound design does its job well, with an upbeat techno soundtrack serving as a fitting background to the *slick moves you'll be pulling off without a hitch *(disclaimer: slick moves require at least fifteen deaths worth of practice). It fits the game stylistically and serves as enjoyable background music, but in the end, that's all it is. It fills the silence, but I can't say I'll be adding it to my 'sickest jams' playlist. The only real nitpick I really have with the sound is the fact that every time you die, the sound distorts and fades out slightly in a stylistic move intended to emphasize failure. I understand the reasoning behind it, but frequent deaths made it a bit annoying to hear over and over again as the smooth beats were interrupted to remind me of my shortcomings.
STANDBY is, in the technical sense, a platformer through and through. Personally, I would classify it more as a rhythm game, considering the precision and memorization required to best many of the stages. The game is rather short (around 3-4 hours depending on your skill level), but the replay value lies in replaying levels over and over again, trying to beat the best time and get your name to the top of the leaderboards.
All in all, this is a game that does its job. It comes with a few irritating quirks here and there, but the job is done to the best of its ability. It wasn't my cup of tea, but if you're a looking for a hardcore platformer to scratch that competitive itch, you really can't go wrong with STANDBY. And for $7.99, there's no reason not to give a try.
|+Smooth Gameplay||-Difficulty Borders on Frustrating|
|+High Replay Value||-Quirky Control Scheme|
|-Death Sounds Can Be Grating|