CREATED by Stewart Hogarth, a Dundee-based freelance games designer formerly of the Denki stable, I Am Level is an evocative hymn to the 8 bit era, complete with a chiptune style score reminiscent of Rob Hubbard’s influential compositions. Released under Hogarth’s Smiling Bag imprint, the game is available for iOS, Android, and browsers.
It would be a mistake, though, to presume that its fetching visuals make for uncomplicated play. Wily design and thoughtful mechanics fuse the basics of pinball to a kind of half-way house platformer. The gurning yellow sphere under the player’s charge cannot run or jump of its own volition. Instead, its movement relies upon a series of springs, bumpers and flippers, along with tilt controls which allow the ball to build up the momentum necessary for progress.
Such a mechanic is not to everyone’s taste, but on both the iPad and Android (tested on an HTC One) the calibration seems well tuned. The emphasis is on mastering the ball’s timing and impetus, with players able to come to a standstill easily enough. Crucially, the use of accelerometer controls also allows I Am Level to avoid the maddening pitfalls of the genre it draws so much inspiration from. Gamers of a certain age will remember only too well the frustration at being caught out by the curse of the invisible pixel in 8 bit platformers, which led to many a plummeting death.
As players progress through the game, thanks to a well-judged checkpoint system, Hogarth’s love affair with the age of the ZX grows deeper. There is an abundance of playfully titled screens and imaginative foes to contend with reminiscent of the halcyon days of the Spectrum and Commodore 64. An unobtrusive levelling system, meanwhile, encourages completists to roll through the series of interconnected screens one more time in the hope of unlocking every feature, without hindering those in search of a quick game. The loading times are at times cumbersome, but in a game aiming to capture the spirit of the mid 1980s, such a foible is nothing if not authentic.
More than any other game, the linked rooms idea conjures up memories of Matthew Smith’s Jet Set Willy, a 1984 title which, with its angry monks and wobbling jellies, appeared at first sight to be a flippant production. After a few hours, however, it soon became apparent that beneath the cosmetics lay a challenging and rewarding engine which demanded forethought and speedy reactions. I Am Level enjoys the same virtues - in a mobile market saturated with cloying Candy Crush clones with glass ceilings and in-app purchases, Hogarth has hit upon a refreshingly lucid formula which will please Spectrum veterans and new gamers alike.