This week’s RadioTimes.com Game of the Week is an indie game called Qomp, published by a one-person company called Stuffed Wombat, and we think it’s a brilliant little experience that most players will enjoy.
Developed by a tiny group of creators, Qomp is a PC game that hinges on a brilliantly quirky idea: you play as the ball from the classic Atari arcade game Pong, with this sentient square finally breaking free from the virtual tennis match that has been its prison since 1972. This is a sequel to Pong, essentially, albeit an unofficial and very much unexpected one.
What unfurls from that unique starting point is a fun puzzle game, as you guide this plucky collection of pixels through a series of trap-laden levels on the path to freedom. You control the game with just one button, which serves the sole purpose of changing the direction of the square as it darts around the world. It’s about as minimalist as a control scheme can get, and yet the game manages to pack in a whole lot of entertainment over the two or three hours that it’ll take you to complete.
The art design is minimalistic, too, with black backgrounds playing host to grey and white shapes in the foreground. This makes the game look simple on the surface, but there is impressive depth underneath: the actual puzzles you’ll have to complete are more intricate than you might assume from a game that has a jokey concept and a sparse visual language.
The timing of your button-presses is key, as you’ll need to dodge around obstacles, squeeze through gaps and even take part in a few boss battles as your little square character attempts to make good its escape. Luckily, there are checkpoints positioned generously around each level, so you’ll never lose too much progress if you do mess up a puzzle.
In fact, it feels like the team behind Qomp have gone to great lengths to make this game accessible. If you find any of the levels a bit too challenging, or even if you’re just in a rush to get to the next bit, you can switch ‘Invincibility’ on or off at any time in the menu. With it switched on, you’ll still be able to tell where you’re going wrong, but you won’t have to ‘die’ and respawn at a checkpoint – you can just sail through the levels and enjoy the overall experience, instead of getting bogged down or frustrated.
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As you progress through Qomp, you start to notice more layers being added to the experience. There’s far more here than a simple riff on Pong, with Qomp proving itself to be an artful and enjoyable experience in its own right.
For one thing, the levels gradually get a bit more multifaceted: sometimes you’ll need to find keys or press buttons to unlock doors; at other points, you’ll need to struggle through underwater areas, where your movement gets a bit more sluggish; and in some fun little tributes to the classic Nokia game Snake, you’ll have to avoid hitting the tail that’s trailing behind you.
The art direction of the project also shows a more ambitious hand as you progress, with the musical score (full of long, sad notes and echoey effects) adding a somewhat tragic air to proceedings, making the overall atmosphere surprisingly haunting. You might also notice the visuals getting a bit more intricate and detailed, as the whole game seems to well up and surpass your expectations.
Although we won’t get into details because of spoilers (it’s much better to experience it for yourself than to it explained it to you), it is worth mentioning that Qomp also has an interesting ending that may well make you think.
Personally, the ending of Qomp made me dwell on the mixed emotions that can come when you escape from a negative experience – the grass may be greener on the other side, just as you’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean you’re living in a happily ever after world without its own problems.
Suffice it to say that I didn’t go into Qomp expecting to have anything like a deep thought. I booted up the game because the core concept tickled me, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself in an atmospheric game – one that offers a solid couple of hours of fun, a range of interesting challenges, as well as some food for thought.
Qomp was developed by Stuffed Wombat, Clovelt, Britt Brady and Miroko. The game is out now for PC (with a console release expected to follow at a later date), and there is currently 30% off the price on Steam, making it just £3.63. Trust me – that’s a very good way to spend three quid!
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