By Eric Pankoke on Wed, 06/10/2009
There's something to be said for developers that stray from the norm, and that something is "thank you". I've recently had the pleasure of playing Joyland Bounce from Gamesmith Studios, and despite the casual, no-die nature of the game - something unusual for a platform style game - I've been quite captivated. Some will find the lack of enemies and ultimate destruction a turn off, but its nice every once in a while to play something with a purpose that's also relaxing. Joyland Bounce fits the bill quite nicely.
The premise behind Joyland Bounce is basically that the stars have come down from the sky to try and rescue the moon, and now you are tasked with collecting all the stars and rescuing the moon yourself. Your journey will take you through 35 levels that range from a lavish garden to ancient ruins, all the way to hell itself. Do you have what it takes to travel the world and return the moon to the sky?
The control scheme is what makes Joyland Bounce different than most platform games, but it takes a little getting used to. Tilting the device left and right help guide your character around, and pressing the screen causes him to float. In some ways it feels more like the tunnel copter game than a platform game. Unlike the copter games you don't die from hitting the walls, but if you're going fast enough you could get into a good bouncing frenzy. As a result you need to learn to balance between floating and "rolling" left or right, which is something I still haven't quite mastered with as far as I've gotten into the game. To just play through the game it's not a big deal, but if you're trying to beat best times it can be frustrating when just a little too much of something causes you to seemingly loose control for a second or two.
Having said that, it turns out that Joyland Bounce is an extremely fun game. If you're not one of those people that has to do everything on the first try, I would highly suggest taking your time through the levels and just enjoying everything the game has to offer. As I said before you can't die, so you have nothing to lose from trying to explore every crevice of every level. There are no specials or bonuses, so it won't help your game any, but you might catch a detail or two of your surroundings that you missed while you were actually playing the game. Also, the last level of each section has a secret key, so taking your time on these levels will help you get that key the first time through. Most of them are pretty obviously, but a couple of the keys are a bit tricky to find. The main problem with this theory is that they don't tell you when you're on the last level of a section (something to fix, developers!)
Graphically, the game gets better with every level set. I don't even think this is because the graphics really are better, but rather because I've taken more time with each group to stop and admire the surroundings. The foreground elements are finely detailed, with small animations abounding. Most if not all levels even have some sort of objects flying around the levels, whether they are butterflies or bubbles or whatever suits the levels. The backgrounds are also quite detailed, but have that slightly non-descript look that always made the backdrops of a Roadrunner cartoon look so cool. Ironically, your character is probably the least impressive visual element of the whole game. With such a finely rendered game, it seems like the main character would scream "mascot". Guess you can't have everything.
The sound effects, while not always the most appealing, suit the game well. Common effects include a ping every time you pick up a star and your character's whimper when you hit a wall while going to fast. Personally, I have 3 relatively young kids, so I don't really need my games whimpering at me too! Each level also has a unique effect or two based on the objects occupying the level. I think a little more could have been done with this, but what exists will suffice. Each group of levels has its own soundtrack, and the tunes are quite nice. Overall it's clear that a lot of effort was put into creating an aesthetically rich environment.
So who is this for? People who have a general fondness for platform games will probably like it, but I think it's geared more towards those who like unconventional platform game play. It should also appeal to those who find the monsters and traps of a traditional platform game too daunting. Finally, those who are into the "I must beat every best time" thing will find Joyland Bounce extremely satisfying and challenging, as they have made sure that it's not easy to beat the best times for each level. And, since people always seem to like to throw around the "it plays like..." comments, I think people who enjoyed the game BubbleHead (which I very much did) will get a kick out of this.