Slime-San:
Blackbird's Kraken
Jul 20
Posted by Mark at 16:08

There's a lot to be said for the Expandalone.

It's a format that ticks a lot of boxes that the business side of gaming likes, but in a way that doesn't put players off. It lets the publisher make a Service Game and recieve the longer-term revenue stream associated with it, but by being more than simple DLC players feel so much like they're getting exploited, but less than a sequel meaning you avoid coming down with the relevant '-itis' and fatiguing the series.

On top of that, because the Expandalone isn't reliant on the presence of the original it can reach a new audience- a new entry point for people, rather than limiting yourself to people who already bought the main game. A good example would be Death of the Outsider, the expansion for Dishonored 2.

This is where Blackbird's Kraken comes in. An expansion to the now only two-and-a-half-month-old Slime-San, a precision platformer, much the same as Super Meat Boy. The objective is to fling your fragile protagonist from one end of the level to another, bouncing off walls and avoiding sawblades and projectiles as you go. In each of these levels, there's a bunch of bananas hidden somewhere, and if you can pick it up, you can use it to buy new characters with their own physics.

The gimmick Slime-San brings to the table is tied into its limited colour pallete. Everything is either white (and therefore just a platform), red (which kills you on contact) or the same colour as the protagonist, green- and by holding the left shoulder button, you can pass through these objects as if they weren't there- time even slows when you use it.

This is all paired with a double jump, as well as a mid-air dash.

If this sounds complicated, it is. The precision platformer really lives on its simplicity, and giving you two tools to use in the air, both of which are functionally very similar, overcomplicates things. If you couple this with inconsistent-feeling rules on how they can be used in tandem (sometimes you can use your second jump after you've dashed, sometimes you can't. Even then, if you'll pardon the pun, that can be all up in the air if you've walljumped) it can be challenging for the wrong reasons to traverse even relatively simple levels.

These abilities and the level design try to push together the speed of Meat Boy, but the puzzles of something closer to Switch- or die trying, and these things don't necessarily go together. Very often the reaction to landing a jump is a case of OHGODWHATDOIDONOW, rather than more instinctively feeling the character's intertia and rolling straight into the next one, and that's on the rare occasion that you don't feel like you've succeeded by accident.

Bafflingly, all the levels are bundled into batches of four, but your progress doesn't save until you've beaten them all. While the four levels tend to share some common theme, this save structure means that once you've bluffed the third one, if the fourth frustrates you into quitting out, you've got to do the first three again later. If you do subsequently bluff the fourth one, but miss the bananas in the second, then you have to go through all four again to have another go.

A short tutorial aside, Blackbird's Kraken drops you in at the deep end, and doesn't really give you a lot of time to get used to the mechanics. When the DLC was announced, much was made of the quirky way it's being released- as an Expandalone for a nominal fee, or as a free addition to people who already have the main game.

So unlike the Dishonored DLCs, which dial back a little bit and start you from zero again with a new storry and a new lead character- effectively a new, short game. Blackbird's Kraken is simply Slime-San's next hundred levels, and as such it's harder to see this as an Expandalone- if you've got the original game and you're prepared to overlook its flaws it's more and it's free and that's wonderful- alone, it's very hard to see the point.
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