Biped is cute but clunky

Biped is cute but clunky

video game review

NExT Studios/Courtesy

Grade: 3.5/5.0

Next Studio’s Biped is precisely the kind of game that belongs on the Nintendo Switch. It is an adorable co-op game, perfect for the console’s Joy-Con controllers. It is easy on the surface, with a challenge within, but rarely frustrates with its difficulty. The Switch is built for games like this: easy, simple, cute. That’s how Biped pitches itself, and it lives up to this pitch — mostly.

First and foremost, Biped is cute. It’s adorable. The scene transitions feature hurricanes and balloons, and large carrots populate the world. The word “biped” is used as a catchall replacement to curses and insults, akin to the word “smurf.” The nonplayer characters are miners and sheriffs, and they happily beep and chirp at the player, surrounded by a landscape with smiley faces carved all over it.

Because of these features, the aesthetic of Biped, both visual and auditory, is one of quaint serenity. Its music flutters as the adorable, two-legged robots the players control wobble around from one cartoonish location to another. This wobbling is the core mechanic of the game: Each leg is controlled individually, and one must always be tethered to the ground. It is a cute approximation of walking, but it is a very clunky one.

The main characters of Biped, Aku and Sila, are tiny robots that often stumble around and collapse on top of each other. The control scheme is remarkably unfamiliar, and the difficulty of motion is immediately apparent. Controls often don’t respond how they ought to, and some movements, especially those involving rotation, are annoyingly precise.

However, Biped’s clunkiness is, to an extent, the point. It demonstrates how truly difficult walking on two legs is. The way it’s played is akin to the way toddlers walk, and its learning curve is one of its most impressive features. Levels are designed like Lego games or Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, tightly enclosed but full of hidden secrets and caches. This design allows for a steady, guided approach to learning that works to Biped’s advantage.

These levels fit nicely together, emphasizing certain gameplay features, and Biped knows when it’s time to move on from a puzzle concept or mechanic. This means that as soon as the player has mastered one technique, they are whisked away to start learning the next one. The visual design is varied as well — laboratories, icy cliffs and lumber operations are a few of the highlights of the game’s levels. 

The ice level is particularly fun, and strongly emphasizes Biped’s co-op gameplay: The two robots are tethered together, using the rope binding them as part of a pendulum to catapult each other from cliffside to cliffside. The shared coins system also emphasizes cooperation, and the lack of consequence from death makes pushing each other around a mere inconvenience rather than a grueling ordeal. 

Not all of Biped’s levels are well-designed, however. Some are overly reliant on rotation — either with rolling logs or spinning platforms — and the problems with these levels can range from dizzying to infuriating. Biped also suffers a severe misstep in, of all things, the messages that congratulate the players when they’ve completed a task. These messages appear far too early, and sometimes a whole challenge must be redone because a player has fallen off the map after believing the level’s section to be finished. 

The difficulty of Biped is not actually its story levels, though. These provide basic ideas and mechanics, which are more deeply explored in the challenge levels unlocked after the initial trials. Speedruns and item collection both provide ample opportunity for depth and exploration, but even these feel like they’re only scratching the surface of what Biped’s engine and mechanics are capable of. 

What Biped does is similar to what the original Portal did: it lays the mechanics out for an impressive and exciting co-op puzzle experience. The problems with Biped are solvable, and can absolutely be resolved with some basic tinkering. For now, though, its clunkiness and issues weigh down an otherwise adorable, light and fun co-op experience.

Crew Bittner covers video games. Contact him at cbittner@dailycal.org. Tweet him at @weakandrewwk.

The Daily Californian

Read more here: https://www.dailycal.org/2020/07/18/biped-is-cute-but-clunky/
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