Puzzle based platformers are in no short supply these days and most of them tend to use the concept of physics as the basis for their puzzles. It makes sense and the environments have a lot more things to take into effect than say, having you simply stack ’em up Tetris style puzzle games, and it adds to some interesting solutions. A lot of these games tend to use liquid as the basis for their puzzles and the physics involved with them.
Constant C, the latest from Taiwanese studio International Games System, is very much a physics based platform puzzler. However, it involves a very interesting mechanic which I haven’t seen too often….time. You are on board what seems to be a derelict space ship that is frozen in time and you play the Rescue Robot, which has an active time aura around him. What this means is that everything around him will go active, but only while it’s within his aura.
There will be boxes, platforms, gates, etc. that will only activate while they are near you and this is the basis for the majority of the puzzles in the game. Setting these things up so they stop above obstacles such as fire and lasers is essential to your survival. What switches this up a bit is the other major mechanic in the game which is much more common, and that is gravity.
I reviewed Munin earlier this year and that game involved spinning tiles around to create safe passages to your goal. This game has a similar concept, but you are spinning the entire level around, not just individual tiles. A lot of interesting things come into play when you do this and I’d say it’s more of an active system, while Munin was a passive system.
In Munin you could never spin the tile you were standing on, but here you can, and obviously if you take the floor out from under you, you will fall. Momentum is very important here and there are puzzles you can solve by not moving at all and just spinning the level and watching the momentum carry you to the goal.
This momentum can also be your downfall, however, since there is fall damage in this game. If you are falling straight into the ground, even if you spin at the last second to put ground beneath you, your momentum will still be carrying you in the same direction. This could lead you into sliding into the wall, and exploding.
It’s a lot of fun and it’s probably my favorite part of the game. I made a snide remark in my Munin review about how clunky the actual platforming was, saying how you could never pull off a triple jump wall kick like you can in a Mario 64 speed run. While the movement here isn’t quite on Mario 64 levels, it doesn’t seem completely tacked on in lieu of the puzzles.
Movement in this game is essential and while there aren’t necessarily pitfalls or enemies in the traditional sense, there are plenty of obstacles that you will need to use some quick reflexes to get around. I’m certainly no expert on the genre, but it was really refreshing to me to play a game like this with fast reflex based movement, it really added a lot to the total package.
If you can make a jump, you are going to make the jump. The controls are sharp and on point and you won’t find yourself spamming the jump button to get that frame perfect jump because the movement is broken. The game moves at a nice, quick, pace – you won’t be sitting there for hours trying to figure out a single puzzle.
While trial and error is punishing, the puzzles are short enough that you won’t be losing a hour or progress for making one wrong move. The solutions for the puzzles aren’t overly complicated, but they will require knowledge of the time/gravity mechanic as well as the movement mechanics.
Don’t misinterpret this as to say the game is easy, some of the puzzles get devious but the quick nature of the game means you won’t get overly frustrated. Before you know it, you will have died over 100 times trying to solve one puzzle.
Perhaps you could condemn the game for not punishing you enough on death, but despite the impressive movement implementation, this is still a puzzle platformer game at heart. Replay value isn’t the genre’s strong suit, so making you go back to the beginning of a sector and having to do the puzzles all over again would be a silly design choice.
The game does give you goals to make the levels more difficult, however. Scattered throughout certain levels will be memory units that your AI Control Platform wants you to collect. These serve many purposes, you need to collect a certain amount to unlock more sectors and they also unlock story sequences that the AI will show you.
The AI basically serves as the GLaDOS of this game, for those familiar with Portal. It’s a wise cracking computer that guides your mission, and it gives you directions. You won’t need to collect all the memory units for it to simply progress in the game, but if you want to unlock everything, you are going to need all of them.
The memory units make the game more difficult since they are placed in more out of reach locations than the exit normally is, but what really makes them tricky is that you can’t just use your momentum to fly over them and collect them. They require you to stand over them for a few seconds while you download the information.
This means you really have to plan the locations of your platforms and how the obstacles will interact with your time aura to be able to find a safe spot to stand for a few seconds. Collecting these is probably the closest the game gets to a more traditional puzzle platformer in my eyes, and most of your in game deaths will be spent trying to collect these memory units.
The visuals, much like the mechanics, are simple, yet sharp. This is a very nice looking game with some very nice effects and some nice little touches. Walking over exposed wires causes sparks to fly when time is active and then when they leave your time aura they freeze right as they were when you left it.
It’s little touches like this in themes and visuals that I tend to appreciate more than pure graphical prowess, and this game has that in spades. Flickering lights, moving conveyor belts, etc. are all themed perfectly with the frozen time aesthetic. The game even leaves the burns on the walls from the explosions of your previous deaths in the levels as you repeat them over and over again. It’s all very well done and I always looked forward to what I would see next.
If you are looking for a puzzle platformer to play around with I would be hard pressed not to recommend this one. It doesn’t have the most complicated puzzles, it isn’t the longest, and it won’t give you as many “A HA” moments as some other offerings in the genre.
However, when looked at as a complete product this has many more things about it I enjoyed beyond just the puzzles themselves. The game can be purchased on Steam, Xbox Live, PSN, or directly from their website DRM free.
Constant C was reviewed on PC using a code provided by International Games System. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.