Over the past decade and change, there has been a real resurgence in brutal platforming titles. Spurred on by the success of the Meat Boy franchise, we’ve since seen a plethora of titles meant to be challenging, rewarding, and particularly unforgiving.
Charge Kid follows in these incredibly difficult footsteps. A small game made by a handful of people who aimed to craft something so frustrating that the replayability comes from our desire to succeed. By peppering the formula with some unique mechanics and then turning around and making the title open-source, the team is aiming to make this a game that could take that inspiration even further.
GAMEPLAY – STATIC SHOCK
The project is described by the publisher as something you could compare to Portal, in the sense of one utilizing singular mechanic to solve puzzles and progress. But it could also be compared to Celeste, as it is a retro-styled game using a limited amount of jumps and quick reflexes to manage your way through a level.
But the distinction that they try to stress is that rather than focusing on how you’re going to get to the end, you need to be concerned with how you’re going to make each jump. It’s almost a formulaic process, with limited avenues to get to where you need to go. Though, I might be getting ahead of myself.
Charge Kid doesn’t have a storyline, which is why you won’t see that section within this review. You’re just a kid with power, following some signs. The power is interesting though: Kid can shoot out a dot of energy to interact with switches and change the level design. But switches and stations are what “charge” you up and allow you to jump. No charge, no jump.
It’s all pretty simple. Get a charge, jump, use an energy shot to hit a faraway switch in the air so you can jump a second time, traverse the levels, get to the end. Easier said than done, of course, but that’s the point of it all. Like Super Meat Boy or other intense platforming experiences, the satisfaction is found in the repeated journey, as it were.
And for what it is, this game is a really good representation of its own core mechanic. Unfortunately, at only 18 levels long and with a limited variety of challenges, there isn’t much to bring it beyond tech demo territory. While I respect this for reasons I’ll hit in a moment, I couldn’t help but feel a little shortchanged.
The thing is, the reason I was left unfulfilled was that I have an expectation of value that I require from the titles I play. As I hurtle through adulthood, this drive to put a dollar amount on the worth of a game experience is being shrugged off of my shoulders. I grew up in the days of Blockbuster, of one game every six months, of putting that cartridge through its paces to get as much out of it as possible. In the days of Final Fantasy VII and Majora’s Mask, I didn’t give credit to smaller experiences, no matter how challenging they might have been.
So in the case of something such as Charge Kid, which has mechanics that would shine if fleshed out a bit and applied to an engrossing world, I’ve found that I’m slowly coming around to the idea of something that I have to hammer my head against to get to the end. In this small capacity, this isn’t likely to go down in the annals of history as a genre-defining masterpiece, but it should definitely be a stepping stone for the next generation of titles.
There’s something special about the delicate balance of vertical movement, the path to the goal, whether you have a charge left, where your last shot is, and if the route you’ve chosen will get you to where you need to be. As bite-sized as the package may be, the core idea is a solid one.
In many ways, this is simply a pared-down version of Celeste. Remove the entrancing storyline, the beautiful visuals, the level variety, the collectibles, the stellar soundtrack, and you’ve got something that would look a lot like Charge Kid. Which, for the price point, is not that surprising. But the notable difference is that if Celeste is a game, Charge Kid is an example.
An open-source example, at that. This is really the best possible way for the development team to release the title. Charge a nominal fee on platforms, but for those that have the knack for it, offer the entire project up to be ripped apart and sewn together.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – BARE BONES
The simplicity doesn’t just apply to the gameplay. There’s not a whole lot to the visuals or the sounds of the game, either. It’s almost reminiscent of BoxBoy! without the colors or tiny touches to make it a softer, engrossing experience.
The contrast between the landscape and the interactive elements makes it easier to figure out what you’ll need to utilize, but the distinction between background elements and scalable ledges is at times, non-existent. If there were more of a difference between what you can jump on and what is just scenery, things would go a lot smoother in my brain.
There are some nominal instances of effective background-blending, such as when you stumble upon one of the five keys that unlock the secret level, but I didn’t find myself wanting more time in the game enough to search those out. They might be a fun bonus for those that want to squeeze every bit out of the title, but that just wasn’t me.
There isn’t much to the audio. Publisher Pineapple Works says that the soundtrack was updated in the port to Switch, but it’s not something I’ve found compelling. There weren’t any melodies stuck in my head after the fact, as it’s mostly loose snares and atmospheric synths. The music is loose and sets a tone of wandering an industrial park. Hardly memorable, but fitting for what it is.
Charge Kid was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Pineapple Works.