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Joylancer Preview: Drilling Through the Learning Curve

Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: TBA

 

I’ve played through the shareware demo for A6 Production’s The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight’s four times now and just now feel like I have the hang of it, and I’m more intrigued each time. Even after some practice the mechanics feel feel strange and a bit clunky, but that makes smoothly traversing the levels far more satisfying. It sort of reminds me of the early Sonic the Hedgehog games, where unwieldy mechanics give way to a smoother gameplay experience.

Joylancer is a throwback to original Gameboy platformers, with two buttons and simple, monochrome graphics. Despite the two button control scheme, controlling your character still takes a lot of practice. One button jumps, the other uses the lance, or charges it if pressed during a crouch. Jumping during a charge preforms a lance-first high jump. The lance has four different possible levels of charge which are all expended in a lance attack, and can be refilled by charging or by collecting the game’s major pickup, gems. Charging at the exact moment the lance jabs refills three at once – think Devil May Cry 4 – leaving an almost full charge. By ramming into gems and enemies and timing charges carefully, levels can be traversed quickly with the dash activated when the lance is at full charge.

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Theoretically, at least. By default the view area is extremely small, though the Gameboy border can be toggled off. Unfortunately, that border contains the very useful engine meter and I found neither setting comfortable. It doesn’t make things unplayable, just a bit inconvenient. I was constantly falling on to enemies hiding just below the screen cutoff with the border on, and misreading my engine power with the border off. A lot of Gameboy platformers, notably the five Gameboy Mega Man games, compensate for the smaller play area by breaking up a room in to mini-challenges, like an enemy or two, clearly on screen, blocking a ledge. Joylancer’s focus, however, is on exploration. While you will still go from A to B, the exit does not open until a certain number of the gems littering the play area have been collected. Levels are extremely vertical, and even when I dropped down lance first, I would regularly end up taking damage.

After a while, I learned when I needed to take the border off, and found replaying levels for time and rank to be a fun, if sometimes frustrating, experience. Each level is filled with the sort of hyper-obscure secrets you see in old platformers, and plotting a perfect route through the level is extremely satisfying. Even with a shortcut, the exit will be closed if too few gems have been collected, so knowing exactly which jumping puzzles need to be completed perfectly and which enemies need to be killed is vital for a speedrun.

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Everything feels really geared towards speedrunners, which is odd in a throwback platformer. While games like Mega Man 9 or Oniken stress repetition to make progress, Joylancer doesn’t even stop the game when the player-character dies, there’s just a quick respawn and a major point penalty at the end. Most platformers delight in throwing new things at the player, but Joylancer, or at least the snippets included in the demo, shines mostly on replay. I could certainly see things getting hairier down the line, but for now I’ll keep chasing that S rank.

Joylancer’‘s shareware demo can be downloaded from the game’s site, where it can be pre-purchased for a discounted price of $5. Another Joylancer game, Legendary Motor Knight Joylancer: Castle of Trials, is expected in March and a pre-purchase of that is included for an extra $5. The sale ends February 25th.



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