Game Review: Fotonica

Run like hell.

Developer: Santa Ragione
Publisher: Santa Ragione
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), OS X, Steam OS, Linux
Available on: Steam

I had this one on my radar for quite some time. What initially grabbed my attention was the minimalist art style. I’m generally a fan of anything that can look cool by using minimal amounts of colors or contours and Fotonica is about as simple as it gets. The bold black and white (and sometimes yellow) vector graphics invoke a bygone age, where the smooth lines of the Vectrex were a serious competitor to the blocky raster graphics.

But beyond that initial wow-factor, I’m not sure if I can fully recommend the game based on its gameplay alone. In the grand tradition of games where you have to run around in a straight line as fast as possible, Fotonica’s gameplay boils down to a single button. You either press it to accelerate, or you let it go to jump. In essence, you’re playing an old school 2D platformer from a first-person perspective.

While this idea does have its charm, I feel that the game has a lot of somewhat missed potential there. The stages feature some verticality and multiple levels, which becomes apparent when increasing the difficulty which basically means you’re going to be running faster. Thus, certain paths you’ve carved out for yourself on lower levels aren’t feasible anymore. But other than jumping from platform to platform, there’s no challenge in there. If I may be so bold as to compare this to another very popular runner game, Temple Run, you’ll notice that that game features a variety of hazards, direction changes and power-ups. All of this is absent in Fotonica, you merely run in a straight line and avoid falling off the path.

One goal that Fotinica definitely manages to achieve is that it provides the player with a sense of speed. Running around in first-person will always be a more dramatic thing than having the camera float behind the character or racing car. It’s just a shame that this aspect, along with the gorgeous art style, are underserved by the minimal gameplay it has on offer, along with the very few levels. 8 regular levels and 3 infinite ones. There’s room for replayability there because of the difficulty levels, but overall I still feel that there aren’t enough levels, because the arcade levels are all fairly short.

I guess I’ll give a mild recommendation for the title, since I like the central concept and the art style a lot, however with the caveat that I don’t think that Fotonica is worth the full price of $10 or €9. I had the good fortune of buying it during a Humble Bundle, which is why I’m more lenient in this regard.

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