Speed runs in platformers are uniquely gratifying and uniquely frustrating. They’re also a real joy to watch after you’ve been fumbling with a game. Almost inspiring. ‘So that’s what it’ll be like if I get better,’ you think to yourself. And if you do get better — even just a little — you know there’s a sense of satisfaction as you glide by the bits that previously bedeviled you. You know to flick the stick left at this point and jump just so much at that point and then shoot in this direction to anticipate that barrier and then just hold the stick all the way to the right to get around that obstacle. Muscle memory, sure, but it’s something like flying, like dancing, like choreography, you and the level designer creating a thing of grace with a sense of rhythm. THIS, then that, then THIS, then that, then THIS. My most recent experience with this has been the superlative Rayman Legends. My earliest experience with this was probably a Sonic game. Speed, finesse, precision, and the ensuing exhilaration, punctuated by lots of “oh, fuck me!” when you mis-time a jump.
Velocity 2X, a platformer for the Vita and Playstation 4 due out later this year, wants you to get better. I spent some time getting slightly accustomed to its unique teleportation gimmicks, which include dashing through obstacles, throwing beacons, and dropping points around the map. You can tap anywhere on the screen to instantly teleport to that point, or you can flick the controller to move a reticle and jump to it with a button press. James Marsden*, whose muscle memory was already conditioned because he’s the guy who made the game, explained that if you roll your finger from one button to the other, the timing is easier to finesse. Ah, so it is. The tapping is a hard habit to break, but the flicking is so much faster. There are also puzzle elements that use the beacons. Marsden called up a map and showed me the points where I’d inadvertently dropped beacons as I hammered away at various buttons trying to figure out what to do. I could teleport back to any one of those points. Never before has my fumbling afforded me so many options! These beacons are mandatory in some timed puzzles where you have to hit a sequence of points on the screen before, say, a door closes. There are also points around the level that you can only trigger in a certain order, so you might have to backtrack.
Velocity 2X is the sequel to a shoot-em-up, but this sequel splits the game evenly between ship-based shoot-em-up and on-foot platforming, instantly switching between them when you fly or run into a transition point. There are collectibles that you can ignore if you don’t care about that part of your score. There are weapon power-ups you can ignore if you don’t care about the shooting. But you’ll want to pay attention to both to do the really dazzling stuff. For instance, Marsden jumped ahead to the 46th of Velocity 2X’s 50 levels and he showed me how quickly you can get through a level once you learn the dance (fast forward to the 19-minute mark of this Polygon interview from GDC to see it in action). So that’s what it’ll be like if I get better. As you might guess from the name, Velocity 2X is a platformer/shoot-em-up hybrid ultimately built for speed.
* I know enough about how often people hear comments about their names not to say anything.