Some games are hard but fair. Others are simply cheap. Others still cause you to re-evaluate what you expect from a particular type of game.
Eryi's Action, a Japanese platform game from doujin circle Xtal Sword and Western localizer-publisher Nyu Media, falls into the latter category.
Initially appearing to be a '90s style Japanese platformer with a predictably fluffy story about a fairy trying to recover her favorite watermelon from her nemesis Farta, Eryi's Action very quickly reveals itself to be something very different to what you might expect. And, once you get your head around what it's doing, it becomes a surprisingly addictive amount of fun.
Eryi's Action is what is colloquially referred to as a "trapformer." Lest you've never come across this peculiarly sadistic offshoot of the platform game genre, it has roots in titles like I Wanna Be The Guy and Unfair Mario, and its defining characteristic is initially appearing to be completely unfair and even unbeatable. This is largely thanks to the various traps hidden in places you wouldn't normally expect to find them in a conventional platform game. But as you continue to play these games and discover where their various tricks and traps are hidden, you start to determine how they work -- and before you know it you're successfully dodging not only traps you previously encountered, but anticipating others before they happen at all.
There's initially something of a degree of trial and error involved in the process, and Eryi's Action pulls no punches in training you to expect the unexpected. On the game's intro screen, for example, a huge pie dish will drop on heroine Eryi's head and kill her before you even start the game proper, and you're not even safe on the world map that marks the intermission between levels.
The game is infinitely patient and doesn't penalize you for repeatedly battering your head against an obstacle -- literally in many cases.
It's testament to the game's good design, though, that over time you consciously start to understand how its designers think without the game giving you any explicit instruction or pointers. You'll start to recognize level elements that look suspicious, and know to avoid them before they cause a problem. Of course, there's a certain masochistic appeal in deliberately running into something that looks suspicious just to see what it does to poor Eryi, and indeed the game's new Steam version encourages you to embrace this side of yourself through a suite of achievements that celebrate all the possible ways it's possible to kill our heroine. Even without them, though, there's a certain degree of slapstick comedy inherent in the game's level design.
It's also worth noting that the game is infinitely patient and doesn't penalize you for repeatedly battering your head against an obstacle -- literally in many cases. No, while the game initially appears to provide you with just two lives to survive the challenges across its 12 levels, it won't be long before that life counter drops below zero and just keeps going further and further into the negatives, reminding you regularly of just how many times you've made mistakes along the way, but never actually allowing you to completely "fail."
Perhaps the best thing about Eryi's Action, though, is the fact that it mixes things up regularly and rarely becomes too predictable. Some traps are simple obstacles that you need to jump over or duck beneath, while others, such as how to complete the first level without a spiked ball falling on your head and killing you, are more elaborate puzzles that require you to figure out how the various elements of the game work together. It's extremely satisfying to successfully make your way through a complete level because you know you had to work for that victory. There's no hand-holding, no gentle easing in to the game's challenges -- just a harsh but ultimately very fair level of difficulty, applied consistently over the course of the whole game.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Low-res, but charming and cutesy. Eryi herself is a particular highlight, with some amusing animations both for normal actions and her many, many deaths, but the enemies have appealing, fun designs, too.
- Music and Sound: You'll tire of the repetitive music before very long, particularly as it starts again from the beginning every time you die. And you will die quite often.
- Interface: The game is simple to control, which allows you to concentrate on avoiding traps rather than battling with the main character -- exactly how this sort of game should work.
- Lasting Appeal: Assuming you embrace its "trapformer" nature and don't try to play it as a regular platform game, this should keep you busy for a while -- and once you've made it through once, there's always the challenge of surviving without a single death to go for.
The "tough love" nature of trapformers means that Eryi's Action won't be appealing to everyone, but for those willing to take a few hard knocks in the name of learning the game, this is an accessible and enjoyable introduction to a peculiarly sadistic genre of game.