Developer: Spooky Star
Publisher: Spooky Star
Played on: PC
Release Date: June 4, 2015
Time Played (Steam): 2.4 hours
Played With: Mouse & Keyboard
Paid: $0 (Key provided by promoter)
Where does one start with a game like The Architect? In all honesty, sitting down to write this review is just giving me traumatic flashbacks to the displeasure that was this game. I wish I had something witty or insightful to say about it, but nothing’s really coming to mind. The music’s okay…I guess? At least, it would be, if there was more than a handful of compositions available. What I’m trying to say is that this could get messy. The unfortunate thing is that this is my first time doing an “official” review, where I was actually provided a key by someone promoting the game. If this is a sign of things to come…oh boy.
One of the first things I noticed in The Architect was the overly sensitive controls. You control a ball that you can move across blocks, with the ultimate goal of getting to the exit of the level. To do this, you have to collect items (space modifiers) that let you raise and lower blocks in the level, then do so on the right ones to get you to the end. Simple enough, right? Not when doing little more than tapping a key causes your ball to rapidly jump across the level, potentially causing you to fall into a gap that you have no way of getting out of. You can’t fall off the map or anything (thank goodness), but a game that requires a certain degree of precision when moving should not have such a jumpy movement system.
In general, that’s something that I found permeated the game as a whole: A lack of precision available for the tasks you need to perform. Each level has a timer active to encourage you to complete it in the shortest time possible, yet I found that trying to progress at much more than a snail’s pace was a recipe for disaster. The jumpy movement certainly played a role, but there’s also the cumbersome camera controls that have you rotating, tilting, and panning all while trying to move your ball. And then there’s the actual block movement. Right-clicking a block will lower it by one unit, while left-clicking it will raise it. That would be reasonably straightforward, if it weren’t for the fact that the game’s aesthetic completely destroys any shred of intuitiveness this system might have. See, each block is basically just an outline; blue lasers forming a cube shape, with some light shading. That’s not so bad to deal with when you’ve got a small amount of blocks; it’s pretty easy to figure out which is which. But try having a map covered in blocks, where some of them are at different levels. It can be incredibly aggravating to figure out which block is at which level and where it even is. Did I mention that each of the space modifiers that let you move blocks are single-use? Because they are. So if you mis-click a block, you may just have to restart the whole level. I get that the potential confusion that can result from figuring out which block you’re actually targeting is part of the reason why the robust camera controls exist. However, it ultimately makes navigation more cumbersome. There were times where I felt like I was spending more time adjusting the camera to make sure I was clicking on the right block than I was spending actually playing the game.Speaking of those space modifiers, they come into play more depending on the difficulty you choose. Go on the “super-easy” difficulty, and your only goal is to get to the end of the level. On the other hand, the “normal” difficulty forces you to collect every single one before the exit will actually work. Given everything I’ve already said about the lackluster controls, I think you can guess which difficulty I quickly moved to. Note to game developers: a mode is not difficult just because you make me spend more time in each level trying to figure out a puzzle, only to force me to restart ten times because your controls are jumpier than a coked-up rabbit.
As for the story, well, it’s basically non-existent. It consists of random philosophical musings that bookend each level, often with a few grammar mistakes thrown in for variety. Honestly, a puzzle game like this doesn’t really need a compelling story, but it would have been nice to have something to motivate me through the drudgery.
And that brings us to the technical issues. Hoo boy, this is a fun one. First of all, the game will randomly crash while loading levels. And not the “crash to Windows” type of crash; oh no, it’s a “we’re just going to sit on a loading screen for half an hour and not give you any feedback” crash. Those are my favourite. Apparently this is a known issue that’s been discussed in the community forums…and never fixed. How delightful.
There’s also odd issues with the timer; it’s active in every mode, including the level editor. Not sure why, but I figured it was worth mentioning. It certainly threw me when I started up the level editor and saw the timer slowly counting up at the top of the screen. Incidentally, that was about the time that I decided that I didn’t care about making my own levels. Totally unrelated, but of note nonetheless.Speaking of custom levels, scoring seems to be broken in them. I decided to download a custom level, and upon completion noticed that it said I had collected 0 orbs, even though I knew I had collected more than that. I tried again, making sure to get every single one. I got a message saying “Congratulations! You collected all the orbs!” That was right next to a message saying that I had collected 0 orbs in the stage. Okay then.
It’s not so much of a technical issue, but something that caused me a great deal of frustration was the save system. There’s three save slots and an auto-save, which is all pretty standard. The problem is that when you go to load a game, none of them provide you with any information to suggest where the save slot actually is in the game. As a result, there were times when I had to go through and load every single save file in turn, just to see which was the most recent one.
But all of this has been leading up to the biggest bug in the game: it’s unbeatable. At least, as far as I’m concerned, it is. See, after playing for about half an hour and avoiding countless teleporters in the stages that would just send me to endless loading screens (truly, a punishment worse than death), I got to a point where the game told me, “Now you need to choose.” There was just one problem: there was nothing for me to do. I couldn’t move anywhere. I didn’t have any space modifiers, and all the ones in the level were out of reach. I frantically moved around, clicking on blocks, rotating the level, everything, thinking that I missed something. Nope. That was it.The Architect was truly maddening to play. Every time I found something that was potentially interesting, the game squandered it. I thought the music was okay. Then it turned out it was just the same thing, over and over again. I thought that the mechanics were promising. Then I discovered how clumsily they were executed. I know that at the top of this review it says that I played for around two hours. Only about half an hour of that was actually playtime; the rest was just me idling to get all the trading cards. Every time the game crashed, I didn’t want to re-launch it. There was just nothing in it that made me want to come back to it. In some ways, I feel like I could just rate it as being average, but that implies that it’s just okay. Nothing in the game feels like it works as it should; none of it is “just okay”. It’s buggy, frustrating, repetitive, and a complete chore to play.
“Now you need to choose,” the game told me. So I chose to leave, and never come back.