Why did the astronaut cross the road?
To say Irrupt is minimalist – that it’s a game in which there’s not a lot to do – is an understatement. In fact, there’s only one thing to do: press and hold. Faced with such stark simplicity, it might be tempting to dismiss Irrupt for the game that it isn’t. But then, that would mean missing out on the elegant little gem that it is.
In the vast expanse of space, only a couple of things are certain: taxes, death, and the constant crossing of cosmonauts from one side of the screen to the other. Or, at the very least, the latter two. Boot up Irrupt and you’ll immediately see a never ending stream of spacemen making their way from one side of their ship, through the dangerous void, to the other. Amid falling asteroids, it’s your job to stay their untimely execution. Tapping and holding stops an astronaut in his tracks, while letting go puts him back on track. The catch? Every motionless millisecond stores up energy, and an unleashed astronaut moves faster than ever before. Meanwhile, stalling is strictly verboten: when your small meter runs out, the side-to-side rat race resumes automatically, with a couple of seconds needed for energy to recharge.
The first few play sessions of Irrupt might seem repetitive or shallow, but trust me: this is a game whose impact gets stronger the more you let it marinate. Like sound or video editors, developer Sets and Settings have gotten all the imperceptible things right, and the greatest measure of their success is that – without understanding exactly why at first – the game will quickly grow on you. This has a lot to do with the way Irrupt deeply understands the systems that make difficult games fun.
Perhaps the most important of these is the juxtaposition of spontaneity and dependability. The game’s rules and foundation are both extraordinarily easy to learn, and completely solid. You’ll never be surprised by a false start or glitchy death. This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t suffer many an accidental demise. The crucial difference is that it will always be your fault; always the result of the limits of your skill rubbing up against the game’s unflinching randomness. A randomness, you can’t change. Therefore, the only option Irrupt leaves you is to improve your skill.
And it’s here that the game really shines, because the skill at the core of it all is timing. Hand-eye coordination. A kinaesthetic set of tools that improve by osmosis. What starts as a seemingly meaningless set of taps is soon revealed to have unseen layers of nuance. Choices emerge; is it worth stopping at all if you can scrape by on this run without using any energy up? Do you have the room to stop on purpose so you can snag one of the power-ups on the next run through and blast away a couple of asteroids? Importantly, all of it operates within a scoring system that does away with the extravagant, meaningless multipliers of the arcade era. The only measure of your success is the number of astronauts you’ve safely escorted from one side to the other; a subtle difference, but one which means a lot. In Irrupt, you have something clearer, purer to strive for.
Sometimes, when I’m playing Irrupt, the energetic chiptune soundtrack will wash over me and I’ll get lost in a non-existent story. Like a 70s sci-fi TV show soundtrack by way of early 90s videogames, the music evokes shades of an epic salvage mission, or crucial repair operation. Then, suddenly, I remember: it’s just a simple game about tapping on astronauts. A simple, beautiful game.