qomp (PC) review
"No PONG turns"
qompís very first requirement of you is that you escape. The catch here is that what youíre escaping is Pong. Turns out, the little ball thatís spent decades being battered back and forth is just about done with that mess, and yearns for a little bit of digital freedom. To achieve this, you need to help it slip past the defences of its longtime tormentors, the paddles. Along with a newfound craving to be free, the ball has also acquired a neat little trick; it can now change its vertical direction on whim, letting it fake out a change of pitch before doubling back on itself. The paddles werenít prepared for this; such trickery is beyond them.
But true freedom, it turns out, is an intricate maze of perils, calculative failure and routine death. The maze and the perils are forced on you, but the deaths are always your fault. Free from the oppression of Pong, qomp reinvents itself as a precision one-button platformer, letting you prod your key of choice to effect a 90į vertical alteration. Only, thatís all you have control over; the ball still tracks from side to side, and the only way to reverse this is to make contact with a solid surface. The premise is simple; manipulate the ball so it regularly bounces off a suitable surface, allowing it to ricochet happily through the maze.
The maze is not keen on this, and goes out of its way to make things difficult. Thereís expected pitfalls, like spike-lined walls youíll need to avoid, or temporary buffers that wear down with repeated use. Sometimes, rotating blades will swing back and forth like a particularly poorly designed clock, forcing you to twitch back and forth until you can match their rotation. Thereís a series of chute climbs where the only thing protecting you from the spikes is a puff of smoke that dissipates with the slight connection. Not to worry, though; this triggers a new puff to play at being a wispy safeguard. Only, the puffs donít necessarily solidify in order, meaning sometimes you need to take one step back down the chute in order to eventually gain two bounces up.
Though the maze is devious, it remains fair, and all of its myriad of dangers can be bypassed with enough forethought and reasonable twitch skills. Most early deaths will be blamed on qompís unique control scheme as, in a moment of panic, youíll often forget you can only control up and down while figuring out that no amount of button mashing is going to make left or right happen. But thatís okay, because the opening stages donít make heavy demands on you, and the way forward is always clear and achievable. And if itís not, that's okay, too; qomp comes with numerous ways to make the game easier for people, from adding tracker arrows to confirm which way a button press will send you, to the ability to outright make the ball invincible.
To each their own, but most wonít find it too taxing to bounce their way to the end of the maze in a handful of hours. qomp isnít a marathon slog, and itís easily beaten in just a couple of sittings. Itís a good length for this sort of game, ensuring that the various tricks and traps donít feel repetitive. Mainly because the maze has so much stuff to throw at you. Sometimes you need to explore a reasonably easy stretch to obtain a key and do away with a pesky locked tile. But picking up the key triggers a bunch of hidden traps, meaning the return leg is considerably more dangerous. Sometimes, the walls arenít walls, but cable that the ball attaches to, acting like a kind of monorail, whether you want to head in that direction or not. Some areas are flooded with water, which drastically alters your ballís physics and, sometimes, thereís greedy bloated Pac Man-like creatures that will chase you around the screen.
Thereís tons of cool ideas, like how qomp pays homage to another retro title, Snake. Hitting a certain power up will mean your ball leaves a growing trail behind it, familiar to anyone who ever owned a Nokia 3310 phone. That tailís not just a nifty effect; bash into it, and itís game over. But thatís not that big a deal; death is a minor inconvenience, and you can rely on a rapid succession of respawns much like Super Meat Boy should you die. And you will die. Often. But youíll pop back into existence, knowing full well you can bypass the previous obstacle better this time. Now youíve had a trial run at it. Now that youíve figured out the hook. Youíll tell yourself that a lot, because there's nothing qomp throws at you that feels unfair.
If you canít blame the game, that means it must be your fault, and screw that nonsense. And so the Ďjust one more tryí effect kicks in there goes your evening.
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