Reviews

Lumbarjack – What the Beep?

One of the many good things about game bundles is that you can find yourself playing games that you previously knew absolutely nothing about. In an industry that thrives on PR, previews, preorders and all that other bullshit, being able to play a game with absolutely no preconceived notions is refreshing.

So, Beep. What the Beep is it? I have no fucking idea, but I’m about to find out.

Beep is both a physics-based, puzzle platformer, and the name of the robots you control in said game. I say robots, because according to the deep and ancient lore of the game, the ship you control serves as a manufacturing plant for the B.E.E.P. robots, which is a handy, diegetic way around the usual platformer trope of constant death.

The Beep-bots have the ability to roll around, fly thanks to short-burn thrusters, shoot, and manipulate the environment with a gravity gun, and you’ll often find yourself needing to use most or all of these tricks to complete the various puzzles the game throws at you.
As with Rochard, I can’t help but think the presence of a gun is unnecessary, and if it had been removed from the earliest design documents the game could have been more interesting for it. If we are controlling exploratory robots on alien worlds, is it even necessary to have enemies as opposed to environmental hazards? And if we do need enemies, couldn’t we deal with them in more emergent ways; using our gravity gun, our wheels, or the environment itself?

How well you like Beep will come down to two things – how much ‘cutesy’ you can stomach, and how high your frustration threshold is.
Personally I have nothing against cutesy, but the graphics on display here are quite simple and the whole package is reminiscent of edutainment games of yore.

Beneath that overly-cute façade, though, is a solid game. It’s a physics puzzler wearing the face of a platformer like some twisted cartoon serial killer. What this means in actuality, is that you’ll generally proceed from left to right, jumping over bottomless chasms and dispatching enemies – but this platforming is really just a vehicle to transport you between the physics-based puzzles that make up the meat and potatoes of the game.

There are two facets to the physics play. Firstly, the wheels of your Beeps have a certain amount of stickiness and this cohesion can occasionally let you cheese through environments or puzzles in ways that might not be completely legitimate, but sure are satisfying.

Second is the official way of manipulating the environment – that recent gaming staple – the gravity gun. You can pick up deceased enemies, rocks and blocks of scenery and use them to block lasers, stack them to climb to unreachable areas, or use the gun to manipulate more-permanent parts of the environment; move platforms around so you can make a jump, manipulate interlocked pieces in the form of a sliding puzzle so you can pass through, or even dismantle the scenery so the path ahead is clear.
By World 2-2 things start to get difficult, and it will take some genuine effort to get through a level with all three shiny anti-matter, golden chunklets in hand.

The aforementioned frustration comes from a bit of jankiness with the physics and the sparse checkpoints. I managed to get not one, but two blocks stuck in two seperate movable platforms, rendering that puzzle, well, fucked. There are various times when a minor slip-up can see the puzzle pieces you need lost down a bottomless pit and the only recourse is to kill yourself or hit restart. It’s not a huge issue, but as the puzzles get more complicated, the last thing you want is for the game itself to get in the way of you finishing them.

Big Fat Alien appear to have thought of every possible combination of elements in the creation of the puzzles in Beep. If they set out to make a simple-looking, yet complex physics puzzler then they knocked it out of the park. It won’t be for everyone, either due to the aesthetics, or the fact that it’s yet another puzzle platformer, but it does everything it set out to do, and does it well.

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