Love is one of the lesser known yet notable independent platform games to have come out over the last decade. Yet it was one of the earliest games of its type. Bringing in a focus on difficult jumping puzzles, and speed run design.
PROS: Level design. Music. Gradual difficulty.
CONS: Short length. Occasional clunky movement.
SINCE LOVE: Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, 1,001 Spikes, and others have shared elements of Love.
Way back in 2006 when many independent games were experiencing a resurgence, Fred Wood designed Love. Early builds went for an allegorical vibe. Suggesting that the better you did, the better your relationship would be. Over time it instead became the retro themed platformer it is today. Love isn’t a particularly long game. In it you take a very simple human figure through 16 stages filled with death traps. In a lot of ways Wood’s game inspired many of the heavy hitters independent programmers, and studios bring out today. It shares a common love (no pun intended) of Commodore 64, Atari 2600, and NES games. Especially difficult platformers like Mega Man, Spelunker, and Pitfall II.
The affection of Commodore is apparent in the game’s graphics. Everything runs in a similar color mode, and backgrounds clash two contrasting colors. In the primary mode, Love gives you 100 lives to clear the game’s 16 stages. The game operates by having you move, and jump your way through the obstacles. There is also a spawn button, where you can place a marker telling you where you will spawn on your next life. This makes the game a bit easier, as you can place a marker before any jump or trap. In doing so, you won’t have to replay large chunks of a level to get to that point again. Death traps can be surprisingly gruesome for a game with such low visual fidelity. The deconstruction of your pixels suggest you’ll have exploded, bled out, or suffered some level of dismemberment.
If you can clear the game, or even if you can’t you’ll be rewarded with a report card on your progress. Love isn’t the first video game to have a report card system. But it does use it in a way that can possibly entice you to do better. Especially since it can be difficult toward the end. While the difficulty is high, it is gradual. It starts out with some challenging jumps. But you might not necessarily die from a botched jump early on. In the first stage, you may just find yourself redoing some of the earlier portions. Over time the game introduces newer challenges. Bounce pads. Spikes. Even pits you are supposed to fall down, while avoiding things as you fall. These on their own won’t sound like anything new, but at the same time, the game manages to introduce these at just the right pace. You learn to overcome the odds over time, gaining some confidence along the way. Rather than just having everything, including the kitchen sink thrown at you right away. And while there’s nothing wrong with the latter, for some it can seem frustrating for the sake of being frustrating. Instead, Love takes its time introducing challenges.
Which isn’t to say that it is an easy game. Far from it. Many of the traps are really well thought out puzzles, that require a shocking amount of skill to solve. Even after you intellectually know what you have to do, you’ll need some reflexes to pull off the solution in many cases. Joining the primary mode, is an easy mode that gives you unlimited lives, at the cost of score. There is also the You Only Live Once mode, which gives you one life to clear the entire game. This is a feature that has been replicated hundreds of times over by other games that have come since this one. Rounding things out are the Speed Run mode which times you, and the Remix mode which randomizes things.
The audio is filled with an eclectic mix of electronic styles. There are some Synthpop chip tunes, Industrial, and Trip Hop arrangements. Some of the songs are shared between levels, but each of them does give the game a feeling of identity. They fit the mood of the stages, and can be appreciated by those who don’t generally enjoy electronica. Composer James Bennett does a phenomenal job here. The soundtrack is also available separately if you find you do want a copy for your work commute.
If there are any complaints to be levied, they’re mainly the sometimes slippery movement. If you stop moving, your character will keep moving for a pixel or two. This means you really have to plan ahead in later levels where the stakes are higher. Especially since most players won’t have many lives left by then. Assuming you’re not playing on the easiest setting. The spawn system can also make the game a bit too easy for those who love pushing themselves. Fortunately, for those who love a challenge placing spawn points reduces the score at the end of the game. Still, it can be very tempting to place them before any really difficult challenge. Although I suppose the one life only mode is one way to remedy this.
Overall, Love isn’t a very long game. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s a fun, bite-sized game that you can replay over, and over again attempting to master it. Much like the old Atari, and early Commodore games that clearly inspired it. It’s also one of those obscure titles that might have inspired many game makers you probably do like. It recently made its way to Steam so hopefully that will make it a little bit better known. It’s fun, successfully embraces moments of old, and provides a gradually increasing level of challenge. It’s quite possible you could fall in love with Love.
Final Score: 8 out of 10