Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Type:Rider

"Edutainment" is a term heard less the further away from the 80s we get with titles like Mario is Missing and Math Blaster remaining a distant, foggy memory. Though games like The Oregon Trail may still have a following thanks to pioneering the genre, educational software has comparatively fallen by the wayside. Though games like Frog Fractions have taken the concept and run screaming with it, the genre has seen few strides forward in the post-Number Munchers years.

Though the aforementioned Frog Fractions has shown us the weird, gelatinous places that educational software could be taken to, most edutainment games have found themselves happily regurgitating facts culled from textbooks. While one could argue that Frog Fractions doesn't count, it does show us promise for using games a tool for learning. And the possibilities are really quite astounding when you think about it.

Games have come a long way since the run and jump days of Super Mario Brothers. While the argument for games as art is still up for debate, the question whether games can be used to teach seems to say that they can. Games can be defined loosely as systems which offer binary win or fail states. Those states can be used to reward or punish.

But teaching in games needn't stem simply from the win/lose binary. There are plenty of games that don't adhere to gold stars or death animations. The SimCity series of games is able to use its game play to teach us about societies, be they of the and or tower variety. Games such as Freelancer have rudimentary economics systems built into them. Even Bioshock Infinite with its glowy-fingered shoot-outs is able to tell us something about America's history with racism and that it was bad.

Sadly, Type:Rider feels like a missed opportunity. Billed as "a game which aims to explore typography through an interactive and transmedia experience", Type:Rider certainly does nothing to endear itself to the "hardcore" gaming crowd. Or any crowd, really. But considering some of the best games of the past decade have come from the independent gaming world, it shouldn't be a surprise if it is worth your time.

The art of Type:Rider is exceptional. With each level based around typography and platforms, Cosmografik has done an excellent job of incorporating fonts into the game design. Each level is well thought out with some clever ways to traverse each stage. The first stage, for example, cleverly incorporates a printing press as a trap making it actually thematically relevant to the game. The music is also quite pleasant and matches the art nicely. It's quite soothing and makes for a somewhat relaxing experience.

Unfortunately, while the game is enjoyable, it doesn't engage as much as it could. While it begs the question what one could really do with typography, games like ASCIIvania have shown interesting if derivative ideas. Type:Rider doesn't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but it does feel like there was potential for so much more.

Though the game makes good use of its physics engine, it's all too often hampered by poor controls. Game objectives are direct enough - get to the end of the stage and collect the letters, the inertia causes your character to overshoot jumps and slide around platforms. While this doesn't make the game impossible, it does increase the difficulty unnecessarily. More often than not, the player will be forced to hammer on the space bar repeatedly just to avoid spikes or pits.

The game fails to challenge the player and while there is some incentive to collect pick-ups, the game play amounts to little more than head right to exit the stage. Arguably the same could be said for most platformers, the difference is in the subtleties. Victory is only sweet when you've had to work for it and it should be said there is little work to be had in Type:Rider.
While the game does feature a nice history of typography, it feels unnecessary and tacked on. It's there, but the game itself makes no effort to encourage you to read any of it. It sits on the other side of the game, tucked away in the corner mewling into the darkness. The concept is interesting enough, but it begs the question why include any of it at all when Wikipedia is but a browser click away.

All told, Type:Rider isn't necessarily an awful game. It's competently made with an excellent presentation. And for those interested in typography, it may be worth a look. It's just too bad that there wasn't more done with the concept.

Get it on Android | iOS | Steam
Developer: Cosmografik

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