We create our platform and dash to within grasp of the static one up ahead. Our shiny-headed avatar jumps and misses by what feels like miles but is likely only a millimetre if that. He slowly drops down to a platform far below and we realise that perhaps we’re slightly out of time with the beat of the level’s soundtrack. Taking a deep breath we attack the level again and at the same time see in Demimonde’s Octahedron a Super Meat Boy approach to level design in that, if you get the timing right, everything is child’s play. Get it wrong, however, and you’ll be rinsing and repeating levels in this vertical platformer for what seems like forever.
Things start off rather oddly which, given the heavy use of neon and dance beats later on, sounds like a strange statement to be making. However, things open with a cutscene of your protagonist wandering out into the woods and happening across a strange, glowing octahedron in the woods, as you do. You are then transported to your strange, neon emblazoned world; however, there’s no tutorial to speak of. After bashing a couple of buttons, you'll find out how to create a platform at your feet on demand which allows you to climb up and reach the exit portal at the top of each level.
As you make your way through each vertical prison you’ll discover that platforms move with your avatar, disappear after a certain amount of time and each level gives you a different amount of platforms you can make before you’ll have to touch solid ground to replenish your stock. Everything is discovered by trial and error — never is anything explained to you. Even as you progress and gain new platforms beyond the standard one, how to use it and exploit each level is left up to you to find out. In some games this would be annoying but thanks to Octahedron’s inherent simplicity, it’s never a chore and is usually only a button press or happy accident away. Given some games’ propensity to handhold gamers through the early stages, it’s kind of refreshing to just be let loose to discover things on your own.
Each of the five game worlds has their own unique hook and new enemies which later levels continue to use. As such, the further you advance in Octahedron the crazier and tougher they are. They don’t get obtusely hard, however, but we certainly had our fair share of restarts and deaths during our playthrough and this wasn’t limited to later levels. All told, there are fifty levels to complete which is no small task. A fair share of our deaths were due to our own inability to get things right, however there were occasions where we were sure we’d pressed the button to jump only for it not to happen. There are also mechanics around moving platforms which take some getting used to. On some levels there are speaker-like devices that will pull or push your platforms; if you time things wrong your platform will move before you can do anything and you’ll plummet, often into things that take one of your lives away. On such levels, dying was far more frequent than in other situations and we just did our best to blast through them ignoring any collectibles for fear of dying.
It’s a shame that these relatively minor issues with the mechanics can detract so much from enjoying the challenge at hand. However, when you consider that collecting the octahedrons dotted around the levels along with the flowers are key to advancing through each game world, then when a mechanic or obstacle takes things to the point where you’re hitting the panic button you know things can’t be quite right. This is doubly so when there are medals to be won for completing certain challenges like using a set amount, or less, of created platforms per level, or within a set time. In these instances you need things to be precise. This is what made Super Meat Boy a frantic yet rewarding game to play. Its controls were simple yet accurate and responsive; the same cannot be said about Octahedron. They can be worked around if you take your time but we get the feeling this isn’t the point.
One thing for sure is that Octahedron’s soundtrack is excellent. Coming from artists such as Chipzel and Monomirror along with house and trance producers Andre Sobota and Derek Howell, they are clear, crisp and rather catchy. Each level runs in time to the beat so getting a handle on this key mechanic is your first task on a first run-through of any level. Once you get to grips with how the beat affects the level at hand you can then sit back and enjoy how much each track brings their respective levels to life. It brought back fond memories of Lumines which similarly rewarded players who were able to understand how the track and its beat linked to the level being played.
Whilst the neon colour pallette may not be to everyone’s liking it does suit the music, but more importantly looks fantastic running at a rock-solid 60fps. The animation is smooth and we never encountered a dropped frame or stutter whilst playing. So, despite occasionally flaky controls we could never blame any of our ends on anything graphics-related. It’s almost a given that a game of this ilk should be able to hit this mark but even so it’s great that it can and seemingly never drop a beat, or a frame for that matter.
Octahedron is as competent a platformer as you’ll find on the current generation, with plenty of replayability if you decide to chase the medals. It’s chock-full of challenging levels that reward those who time their runs to the beat. Even if you don’t, the task set out before you will never be too exacting as to be near impossible. Things can get really crowded as you reach the later levels and this, coupled with controls that can occasionally be a touch off, you will no doubt find yourself cursing your shiny-headed avatar more than you’d care to admit.