AFTERGRINDER is a new indie title developed by Grave Danger Games; it's a classic arcade runner with some new obstacles and some serious speed. The developers have kept it no secret that this game is supposed to make you stressed, ready to rage quit, and offers skull splitting difficulty. The game, after all, does have a death icon on the screen that counts how many times you die in each level, and the game has a ton of unique obstacles that players will have to navigate through with little time for calculated actions. While runners are traditionally difficult, it's part of this games ethos and personality to make you want to fling your mouse across the room.
AFTERGRINDER will be available for purchase on Steam starting July 19th.
To be frank, there is absolutely no story in AFTERGRINDER. To make this point–with a brilliant dash of humor–the developers offer a small portion of dialogue when you first boot up the game where they essentially act shocked that the player is still here and tell you with complete candor that pain is about to be unleashed upon you. Much of the game revolves around a ceaseless stream of dying, and even many of the achievements are often unlocked by failing a certain amount of times. This is essentially an old style arcade game and the only narratives to be written are how fast you can beat a level and the rage induced cuss words that fly from your mouth as the game takes pleasure in watching you die over and over before you finally succeed.
AFTERGRINDER is a runner where the player is moving from left to right and cannot stop. In this game, the player rides a hoverboard. There are only three buttons needed to control the game. You can go up to ride on the ceiling, down to return to the floor and there is a turbo boost which makes you go faster.This turbo meter can be depleted and refilled. The simple control scheme is all you will want since the levels are filled with obstacles requiring you to quickly use these three buttons interchangeably.
There are three worlds in the game. Each world is thirty levels long, and each world features different characteristics and obstacles. The first world plays like a standard runner (somewhere between VVVVVV and jetpack games).The obstacles in the first world are colored pits, barriers that you need to use turbo to go through or else you die, and switches that open doors. The first thirty levels of the game are really fun, and I was always excited to give a tough level another go.
Worlds two and three, however, were far less fun and engaging, and felt more annoying and tedious. World two's big obstacles are beams that fly across the screen and kill you. They make a noise and charge up, so you have time to jump out of the way before it actually fires. I was fine with these beams for a few levels, but it soon became apparent that they would be accompanying me in nearly every level for the rest of the game.
Then world three comes, and that is when the game's joy is completely sucked dry. Enter the reverse control mechanic: world three has green barriers that reverse your controls, and when you go through another green door, the controls are returned to normal. They often flip flop throughout the level, and again, I would have been fine with a couple levels using these control reversing portals, but like the beams, they don't go away. Reversed controls are NEVER fun, and they are especially not fun when you are dealing with them for one-third of a game.
I found AFTERGRINDER to have pretty fluid controls, and it rarely felt like the difficulty was artificial. I usually felt like I stood a chance against the level as long as I could just remember which paths to take, and alter my playstyle a bit. Each time you die, the death meter increases, and I saw mine go up to about fifty in one level. Most levels were not that hard though and took between one- twenty tries to complete.
Grave Danger Games has tried to soothe over a one shoe fits all difficulty by offering three different characters. Everyone starts with "The Lady" (normal difficulty) but as you die you will unlock "The Dude" (easy difficulty). Then there is "The Shark" (hard difficulty) which is unlocked later in the game. The only difference between the characters is how fast they move. I did try out all three characters, and I ended up sticking with "The Lady" throughout most of the game. These optional characters may be a nice choice for players new to the genre or players who want to increase the challenge, but I would have liked to see more distinctive features for each player such as a quicker jump time or the ability to fair better with certain obstacles.
Lastly, the game has offered some incentives to replay levels and encourages you to be mindful of your course. Your completion time is recorded, so you can always try to replay a level and get a faster time. More intriguingly were the three stars that were placed in each level. These stars are optional, but getting them shows up on the menu screen, and AFTERGRINDER records how many total stars you have. I found them fun to try to collect, and most of them were placed in locations that were risky to jump to without seeming painstaking to acquire.
graphics and sound
The graphics and sound are the nadirs of AFTERGRINDER. Even by indie standards, the graphics are bland and boring, and the soundtrack, even when offering a fun backbeat to a level, ends up too repetitious to enjoy.
The graphics are rather lame: the backgrounds are distant cities painted in dull shades of bright colors, and while I am fine with the simplistic direction of the art style, the same exact color patterns and backgrounds are present for all the levels throughout an entire world. To elaborate, that means that thirty levels in the game have the same exact background with no alterations. Even when you change to a different section of the game, the backgrounds look almost the same, just with different color schemes. All in all, it got boring very fast and never really added to the game's environment.
The obstacles in the levels themselves look alright, and the character sprites are pretty fun, but there is nothing that jumps out at me here. In 2017, the visuals in this game just seem bland and lazy.
That isn't the end of the repetition. The soundtrack and sound effects never really stood out either, but like the graphics, I ended up hearing the same beats and synths far too many times. It felt like an endless loop of the same track and the lack of interesting visuals and music, made far worse by repetition, takes a big toll on what is some overall solid gameplay. In an era with a ton of indie titles, these bland aesthetics won't appeal to many gamers, and to add insult to injury, the game brags about being fast paced and pain inducing, so a killer soundtrack could have really accentuated the developers rhetoric but instead waters it down.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first world of AFTERGRINDER, and I enjoyed spots of the second and third world, but I felt like this game really lacked the polish and addictive gameplay found in other quality runner titles. The control scheme was fun and unique, and the controls were overall responsive, but some of the obstacles such as reverse controls and blast beams that fly across the screen were far overused and were more tedious than fun to try to overcome. To be honest, playing the game felt like a chore during many levels, and I know the game boasts it's difficulty, but difficulty doesn't always mean fun or enjoyable, and in the case of AFTERGRINDER, that mark is missed more often than it is hit.
The visuals and soundtrack are too plain and repetitive; but when the game shines, it's a really fun rush to play through a level. I wish the developers were able to use other obstacles and level designs that didn't feel like implements from some of my least favorite platforming levels of all time because the first world is filled with great obstacles that forced me to plan out my maneuvers and induced stress but had me coming back for more.
Some people, especially big runner fans, may find more to love with AFTERGRINDER than I did, and the challenge is definitely well balanced, but in the end, the repetition in both the aesthetics and level design hinder the game and keep it from being one of the better runner titles.
|+ Control scheme is sweet and simple||– Some level mechanics are annoying|
|+ First world is great and dynamic||– Graphics are bland and repetitive|
|+ Difficulty is well balanced||– Soundtrack lacks variation|