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TurnOn (PC) artwork

TurnOn (PC) review

"Light up the sky."

I was quickly taken in by TurnOn. It bills itself as a platformer without platforms, and while thatís not strictly true, there's a focus on exploration and puzzle solving that the genre isnít especially noted for. Itís a game about restoring power to a darkened city, which you do by moving a grinning alien spark around power lines until itís able to reactivate circuit boards and power grids.

Thereís a kind of understated plot behind it all, dealing with aliens made of electricity, but itís all kind of nonsensical. And thatís okay, because it makes it no less adorable. Exploring a world draped in darkness and reactivating the lights is strangely satisfying. Most levels are very laid back affairs, asking you to explore until you meet certain criteria, such as saving a girl walking home alone from an angry dog, or uniting two lovers at their favourite restaurant by clearing their way. What was once something as simple as turning on lights slowly dials up in complexity. You might have to activate cranes to drop metal platforms across pits, or reactivate traffic lights to clear massive congestion.

TurnOn (PC) image

You do this by guiding your spark along any surface that will insulate itself to your charge. These lines are mostly highlighted in blue, though not always. This is unfortunate, as hitting any surface unable to hold your current results in a restart, and not always having a clear idea what you can and canít traverse does sometimes lead to frustrating deaths, or unclear progression. Still, when the process works, you can rocket along lines, trying to work out what you need to power up to complete the stage, or just explore in search of bonus objectives to complete. You donít need to reactivate that large neon sign on that massive power pylon, for instance, but why wouldnít you? Thereís an out of control Ferris wheel you need to restore power to so you can save the nauseated passengers, but why not make them wait while you seek out all the little pathways required to turn on all of the attractionís lights? Just ignore their wails of anguish Ė theyíll be fine!

The moments you get to spend happily exploring are probably TurnOnís greatest assist, and lend to the game's quasi-puzzle solving elements. There are no spoken words, so youíre sometimes given your loose objectives via a comic-style opening to the stage, or in a speech bubble that a stranded pedestrian communicates in pictures within a speech bubble. Sometimes, you just need to navigate the chaos caused by the lack of power and work out the problem on your own. The blackout has given rise to a group of looters, for instance. You can scare them off by activating security lights, or provide power for the police to tackle them directly. Such stages work, because theyíre relaxed and unhurried, letting you work out and solve the contained crisis at your own pace, giving you the freedom to explore new pathways just to see where they might lead and what you could activate.

Turn On works best in this mindset, offering no penalties for dallying at a dead-end to ensure thereís no hidden path youíre missing, or for dropping down a manhole just to see what might be in the sewers. Itís a shame, then, when the game feels it needs to stray away from these strengths to present more frantic levels that often serve only to highlight the gameís shortcomings.

TurnOn (PC) image

Some levels take their cue from endless runners, scrolling ever onward and forcing you to make a series of timed jumps that the control scheme is slightly too clumsy to comfortably facilitate. When not placed in any hurry, those control issues are an invisible flaw. Other levels present boss fights of a sort, asking that you take down out-of-control drones while avoiding red lightning signs that eat into your health. The last stage is lousy with these, having them drift down from the sky in rapid, unpredictable waves that are often point blank impossible to foretell or avoid. The experience stops being charming at this point and instead becomes needlessly frustrating. Staying alive long enough to complete your objective is a matter of pure luck.

When itís staying true to itself, TurnOn is often wonderful, letting you meld seamlessly into the foreground to tackle a new set of power lines, or rewarding your exploits off the beaten track as your exploration unearths hidden rewards. Thatís the experience for the majority of the game, which makes it easier to work through the occasional points when the adventure grows dimmer. When the game actively campaigns against you chilling out and wandering around, then itís merely straying from what it does best.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 20, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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