Project 83113 offers fast-paced (but somewhat flawed) fun

Platformers have been around almost as long as video games have. If you showed a picture of Mario to someone who had never touched a controller before, chances are they could name him. And they would probably know enough about Mario to tell you he jumps on turtles and over pits. The platformer is gaming’s emblematic genre.

25 years since the release of Super Mario Bros. (has it really been that long?), a lot has changed. Among those changes, the touch screen has taken the controller out of the equation. But platformers? They’re still very much the same. You still run, you still jump, and you still collect coins/rings/whatever for points or extra lives. When you take the controller away from this tried and true genre, things get tricky. Developers deal with this problem in two ways — they either add a virtual d-pad (which I am not a fan of) or they take away some control from the player a la Canabalt.

NCsoft’s Project 83113 straddles the line between self-driven platformers like Mirror’s Edge and the more traditional platformers that children of the 16-bit era fondly remember. With a swipe in one direction or the other, Project 83113‘s four-armed protagonist will start running and continue to do so unless otherwise obstructed. Pitfalls are avoided by swiping up to jump. Swiping down lets you slide under barriers.

During the game’s first act, new mechanics are introduced at a gentle pace. A vertical swipe in mid-air initiates a double jump. You can dash forward, dash down, and even glide. Once you get a handle on these mechanics, the real fun begins. Project 83113 quickly becomes an exhilarating, fast paced platformer like RunMan or Sonic the Hedgehog. Also, a touch of some rather technical trap dodging gave me a hint of Super Meat Boy.

This game is more than just a platformer, though; it’s just as much a bullet-hell shoot’em up as it is a game about running and jumping. Oddly enough — and thankfully — the actual shooting is taken out of your hands. The four-armed, pink creature you control fires his four guns automatically. He uses them against the (mostly) floating robots that populate Project 83113‘s 27 levels. While you navigate the pits and traps of each stage, you must also avoid the loads of bullets these robots shoot at you. In your arsenal is the shoot ’em up’s obligatory screen wiping bombs, of which you have a limited number.

Project 83113

Additionally, each weapon has a special attack. With the default gun equipped, tapping an enemy shoots an arc of fire that destroys almost everything in its path. Ammunition for this special attack is drawn from your life bar though, so it can be dangerous to use. At least it’s supposed to be dangerous: As destroying an enemy replenishes your life bar, I found that spamming the special attack is the quickest and easiest way to dispatch baddies, especially bosses. Boss battles usually boiled down to me furiously tapping my touch screen.

Project 83113 is comprised of three worlds with nine levels each, plus four boss battles. There are also a handful of interminably boring, stealth side-missions in which you take the role of a slow-poke robot, but they aren’t worth the bonus weapons that are the rewards for their completion. The story that strings all this together is paper thin and presented through minimal slideshows and text blurbs, but who cares? This game is about jumping around really fast and blowing up robots; it’s not about narrative. A bare bones weapon upgrade system adds some slight depth, but not enough to encourage multiple playthroughs to unlock everything.

Project 83113 is a cheap thrill. It takes away control from the player with automatic shooting and running, but it does so to good effect. When the screen fills with bullets, bad guys, buzzsaws and crumbling platforms, your adrenaline will begin to flow. But when you die — which you will, a lot — you won’t become frustrated. A forgiving checkpoint system sees to that. What might frustrate you are the moments between the thrilling battles. I found the simplest tasks in this game to be the most difficult. When it came time to make precise jumps from platform to platform, the auto-running resulted in far too many falls. Air dashing past lasers and gliding through a swarm of robots while blowing them to bits? No problem. Jumping from one platform to another to grab a collectible? That’s another story.

Sometimes I miss having a good old fashioned d-pad. But still, for the budget price, it’s not a bad way to kill a few hours.