Once Upon A Time
Deep in the heart of Game Valley sits a video game production plant, currently play-testing their latest creation. Unfortunately the developers have run out of heroes to send into the game to rescue the beautiful princess Lolita Globo. That is until Gift, a red-coloured, overweight, big yellow-eyed slob is volunteered for the job.
Armed with a simple stick he will have to brave the strange light and dark worlds within. His task is simple, locate seven garden gnomes to take to the heroine, who is clearly suffering from vague Snow White delusions, and awaken her with a kiss. All of this whilst avoiding the clutches of the Deep Black Shadow of the Obscure Dark Night.
As you can imagine, the world in which you control Gift is decidedly strange, and nothing is ever straightforward. A bit like a cartoon nightmare actually!
Gift is a 3D platformer which can be likened to Rayman 2, Mario 64 and games of that ilk. You move Gift around the seven different worlds with a combination of running, jumps, sneaks and pole-vaulting with the use of his stick. Unfortunately there is not much variety in his movements, with the ability to crawl, monkey climb or even walk missing.
Our rotund hero also finds the simplest of platforms difficult to jump upon, often necessitating a jump to a smaller platform to get to where you want him to go. When this platform is only head-height it becomes annoying, especially since most other games in the genre would allow you to grab and pull yourself up. In general the camera moves with the action nicely, being viewed from behind for the most part. It does have a habit of deviating from this though and can often leave you in situations where you have to constantly refresh the view to see where you are going.
The puzzles in the game are intriguing, and some of the most original you will come across. A lot of them are centered around the light and dark theme of the game. For example, you might have to work out how to darken an area patrolled by the Little Shadows who live off light, or shed light upon the Little Lights who thrive off darkness. Both of these creatures will savage you if you go anywhere near them. As you progress through the game you will meet increasingly weird enemies, all intent on snuffing out the yellow lights of Gift's eyes. Quite possibly the most sinister looking are the Patrollers with light sensors beaming from their heads, destroying any lifeform that strays into them with a concentrated energy beam.
You Just Can't Get The Staff
The staff Gift carries about with him is no ordinary stick. Apart from wielding it like a loon to bash his enemies, he can also gain special powers by walking past a power marker. These come in a variety of flavours, but the ones you will most commonly find are coloured green, red, yellow and purple. All the markers need to be activated to be used, so you will have to find the relevant switch to be able to harness their power.
Walking past a yellow marker will give your staff the ability to emit light, utterly necessary for some of the locations which are pitch black. The staff will need to be stocked up with power cells to use this, which are liberally dotted around the worlds. Red markers will slow you down, but allow you to drop powder that can then be lit, while the black markers will do the exact opposite to the yellow and shroud you in darkness. Walking past a green marker or through fields of green light will return your staff back to the normal stick bashing mode.
You will also discover the game's only other weapon, the Shadow Gun, which will freeze an enemy or object for around ten seconds when fired at its shadow. Time will teach you how to use this weapon effectively, but all I will say is persevere with it.
The developers have certainly gone to town on the graphics, which can verge on being breathtaking at times. Maximum use of your graphics card is made with lens flared lighting, shiny metallic surfaces, and sparkling rays that are emitted by the green and red force fields. With darkness and light being such a huge factor in the game the changes are wonderfully depicted, with all characters casting their own shadow in true perspective.
Which brings me nicely to the enemies themselves, which are some of the weirdest, freakiest and downright odd creatures you will have witnessed in a platformer. All are beautifully modelled and animated, giving them a strange believable life. 'Dogs' act like a normal canine, but any similarity ends there, and the Magic Powder Generators look like something out of Half-Life!
The music in the game will give a first impression of being totally inappropriate, but as you play the game you will realise that the songs actually blend in nicely. Sound effects range from Gift's little blurps of confusion to the soft whimper as a Dog eats stick, or a Little Light or Shadow screams it's little scream as it is vaporized. Nothing too spectacular, but nothing too shoddy either.
The limitation of Gift's movements is a big surprise for me in a game that seems to have all other areas covered so well. Though he can do most things, little tasks like climbing on to a ledge would be so advantageous at times, along with the ability to walk up to a platform edge and then view your surroundings without risking falling off it. The tendency for the camera angle to wander can also cause much annoyance, particularly when trying to judge an inch perfect jump, or simply to face in the right direction!
Whether or not Gift will go on to become a mascot in the flooded world of cutesy 3D platformers remains to be seen, as despite his cute bug-eyes he is actually quite repulsive! The game does deserve to do well though on the strength of it's well worked puzzles alone. But remember - a Gift is for life, not just for Christmas .. or something!