Indie Games That Don’t Suck: Alter Ego
Alter Ego. No, it’s not the 1986 text adventure game of the same name. It’s a 2011 puzzle platformer that involves the player controlling a stickman, his opposing ghost, and frequently switching places between them as you collect the little chits that are necessary to complete each level. The ghost (the game’s most unique mechanic and the source of its title) mirrors your avatar’s movements exactly, which means that you have to manage both your character and his simulacrum at once.
There is no jump button. Much like Bionic Commando, you must use other methods in order to navigate your surroundings. Unlike Bionic Command, you have no weapons. There are no crates to squash enemies with, either; you must survive and progress through skill. You’re not as passive as in, say, Crazygame.exe, but your character is helpless against your brainless foes. Your ghost is invulnerable, but don’t get cocky. Your only abilities are basic movement and the power to switch places with your ghost a limited number of times per level. This is what makes Alter Ego worthwhile as opposed to some Newgrounds junk that just copies from Super Mario Bros. Proper management of your ghost and knowing when to flip is essential to completion of even the earliest levels.
There are little square chits that you need to collect: pink for you, blue for your invincible ghost, and a red type that took me a bit of brainpower to figure out. Upon touching them all (and not dying within the next second or so), you complete the level. Simple enough. The three types of bouncing square thingies set Alter Ego apart from the typical gewgaws you collect in platformers. In the more complex levels, you must plan your route so you and your reflection are in the right places to acquire them.
Also present are buttons that change the position of the alter ego from horizontally oriented to vertically oriented, or vice versa. This adds another element, but one that I wish was implemented more frequently in order to add to the challenge.
I dig the music. The bubbly melodies never grow tiresome and are better than the typical chiptunes. Unfortunately, I was unable to extract them from the provided .xnb files no matter how many different programs I used. XNB to Wav Converter, XNB Formatter, Foobar2000’s .nsf plugin for the NES version… all of them failed me. Then I thought of emailing the creator, Denis Grachev. He sent me a link to the soundtrack (that I should have been able to find myself had I not been a moron) free of charge. It’s wonderful when game creators actually care about their users. We need more people like him.
The visuals in Alter Ego are dinky little pixel thingies; stickmen, skulls, and squares. However, they are neither ugly nor do they fail to convey what they represent. The function of every object in the game (except the aforementioned red chits) is immediately apparent. There are no I Wanna Be the Guy anti-fun traps here.
There are no secrets to be found, no cutscenes, no hamster-wheel achievements, no “wacky” pop culture references. You play a level and you either beat it or you don’t. It’s kind of refreshing to see a game stripped down to the basics like this. It’s just you versus the levels, no extraneous junk required. Alter Ego doesn’t try to fool you into thinking that collecting the hidden Magical Golden Butt Plugs is worth your time; it simply provides thought-provoking level design and lets you go at it.
Alter Ego is available on multiple platforms including Windows, Linux, Android, NES, and ZX-Spectrum. (!) I can’t imagine what it would be like to port the game to two old dead consoles. Oh wait, I can, because the creator included the notes on how he did it. That is just a great little bonus.
The game has definite flaws, though. It was irritating to switch from keyboard to mouse controls every time I died or got to another stage. Why do so many flash games do this? Why not let me replay or go to the next level with the keyboard? It wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the rest of the game, but it’s a UI problem that should not exist. Also, the menus assumed I was playing a handheld version, telling me to drag my finger across the screen and so forth. Finally, Alter Ego is too easy; I beat all but the last couple of levels on my first try.
Alter Ego is a great little game. It’s entirely free and has a sequel/add-on that costs 3 bucks. Since the original got me hooked, I bought AlterEgo: DreamWalker right away. The free game was a sample and it led me to purchasing another title, like a good video game demo ought to. I’ll be trying out the other games available from Grachev. Highly recommended.