Indie games have become one of the best and only ways for players to experience classic genres with modern design sensibilities. Over the past decade, they have gone from barely discoverable titles on the fringes to being featured right alongside the big triple-A blockbusters at industry shows and events. At E3 this past June, it was not uncommon to hear someone talking about Batman: Arkham Knight or The Legend of Zelda and in the same breath express equal excitement over No Man’s Sky and Ori and the Blind Forest.
Medium-sized publishers — so prolific in the ’90s and ’00s — have all but vanished from the gaming landscape, and in their wake are a huge number of independent game studios. While some have struck deals with major publishers and manufacturers, or been acquired outright, the vast majority of them still self-publish either via their own websites or a digital content delivery service like Steam, Google Play, and the PlayStation Store.
Electronic Super Joy, also available for Mac and Linux (and coming soon for iOS and Android) is the distillation of all the things that make indie gaming so much fun and unique.
From the moment you launch it, it’s immediately clear that Electronic Super Joy isn’t about being subtle. The title screen hits with a blast of pulsating hot pink and loud trance music. Oh, the music. Before I even talk about the game itself, I have to mention the soundtrack. If you don’t like the techno genre in general, you may want to turn the volume down.
For everyone else, Electronic Super Joy‘s music is absolutely one of its highlights. Composed by enV (pronounced “envy”), the soundtrack does a spectacular job establishing mood, creating tension, and most importantly, getting the player in the zone to conquer. Check it out HERE on Bandcamp.
You’re then met with a rather lengthy warning screen full of exclamation points. There’s something quite liberating and tongue-in-cheek about it, which sets the tone for what is to come. Don’t be too alarmed by it. While there are more than a few obscenities, erotic moaning every time you die, and yes, even battles with a pope, it’s nothing you would ever take seriously. This is a game, after all, about your journey to take revenge on the Groove Wizard for stealing your butt. Yeah, you read that right. And if you are offended, there’s always the PG Rating in the Options menu.
Anyway, its hilarious story aside, at its core, Electronic Super Joy is a 2D platformer in the tradition of difficult classics like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. Games like these thrive on their perfect controls, fantastic design, fast death recoveries, and a beautiful marriage of visuals and audio. They reward dedication and perseverance, precariously teetering on that edge of unfairness… but never losing their balance.
Thankfully, Electronic Super Joy gets all of those things right. Your character controls so well, with predictable jumping arcs and quick turns. Throughout your journey, you’ll acquire and use a wide range of different moves, including a downward smash, double-jumps, flying, wall jumping, and high jumps in reduced gravity environments. Speaking of those environments, slick surfaces, single-use bounce pads, lasers, projectiles, spikes, rotating platforms, heat-seeking rockets, and other dangers are all intent on preventing you from getting to the end of each level.
The main game is broken down into three worlds comprised of 15 stages apiece. One nice feature is that as you finish a level, you’re immediately taken to the next one. This gives the game a nice flow instead of constantly dropping you back to the level-select screen. This also makes the game feel extremely short as you can, in one sitting, get through an entire world in about an hour.
It’s not just a matter of getting to the end, though. Much like the Bandages in Super Meat Boy, Electronic Super Joy has 22 Stars that are cleverly peppered throughout each world. Getting each Star is one thing, but you then have to survive long enough to make it to the end or the next checkpoint, whichever comes first. Successfully getting all the Stars will unlock a fourth world that will put all of your skills — and possibly your sanity — to the ultimate test. For those who want even more, a Bonus Content Pack and the recently released Groove City standalone sequel are also available.
Graphically, Electronic Super Joy has a lot more going on than screenshots initially convey. Although the game is primarily done in 2D sprites, there are a lot of 3D elements that add to its aesthetic. Backgrounds have multi-layered, spinning polygonal objects that are often synchronized to the music, producing hypnotic, eye-searing visuals that bring to mind the work of ’90s Amiga demo groups like The Silents, Anarchy, and Spaceballs.
The background graphics are lovely, and they can also be a big part of the gameplay itself. One of Electronic Super Joy‘s earliest levels, “Black and White”, is a great example of the background and foreground becoming one. HERE‘s a video of me playing through it, even though I accidentally take the wrong path at the end.
Characters are small, but they are animated well, and all the NPCs you come across throughout the game have funny, helpful, and sometimes misleading things to say. They happily nod their heads to the beat as you jump from platform to platform, eventually leading you to each world’s fun and bizarre boss challenges.
I had a great time with Electronic Super Joy. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but at the same time is a case study in expert platforming design and execution. If you love a good challenge, look no further.
- Graphics & Presentation: B+
Simple, consistent 2D/3D graphics, with multi-layered backgrounds, vivid colors, and effective foreground separation. Nice, blocky animated menus. Lots of screen tearing with the internal frame limiter off, but input lag with it on makes the game unplayable. Use external V-sync instead.
- Music & Sound Effects: A+
An amazing trance and techno soundtrack by enV that perfectly blends with the game’s visuals. Easily worth purchasing separately. Good sound effects and funny vocals that may get under your skin, but you can thankfully turn them off if you prefer.
- Gameplay & Controls: A
Excellent controls do exactly what you want them to do. Great gameplay variety, and the Stars are challenging to obtain. Some of the later levels require a bit too much memorization with almost zero time to react, which can be frustrating even for seasoned genre veterans, but the game maintains fairness throughout.
- Value: B+
A short game at about 5 hours, but it’s a decent value for only $7.99. If you go for all the Achievements, however, total playtime will be extended considerably.