Over the last few years, with the rise of the indie studio, there has been a massive increase in the amount of puzzle platformers which have turned up on digital platforms. Fez, Thomas was Alone, Snapshot and Spelunky are notable examples, taking a single interesting premise and focusing on it to make compelling experiences. My favourite of the resurgence was definitely Braid, which used the manipulation of time as its central mechanic and ran with it, forcing advanced contemplation of what the best way to use your new ability was in order to progress.
In the same vein comes Replay – VHS is not Dead. Also, using time as its central mechanic, Replay throws you into a variety of filmic scenarios with the task of helping the hero, Harvey, to escape, and to fix the films themselves. However, with a veritable cornucopia of titles available to play, what, if anything, makes Replay stand out?
So the main gameplay revolves around character switching and recording movements in order to get all characters to certain points of the map. It’s hard to actually explain how this works, but to try, you control a character to jump, walk, push etc., like a macro would be recorded. When you switch to another character you’ll go back to start of the scene and record their actions, as the original character goes through the pre-recorded motions and you will have to negotiate around them, hence the title. If you need to add something, or change the timing of the character, you will need to memorise and re-create that character’s macro from the start. You can see how this could build to be incredibly complicated as you push blocks, stand on buttons to open and close doors and such in the shortest possible time, getting every character to their end point.
Although it can feel quite strange at the start, once you hit the swing of the mechanics, it feels very satisfying and incredibly compelling. Having a background in drama, I am reminded of rehearsing for scenes and perfecting it until it looks and works perfectly, adding sections on bit by bit, with all your actors in perfect sync, and I love it.
The main criticism I would have is that it can sometimes feel a bit repetitive in the earlier levels, but that is a minor quibble, and that quickly changes. As you progress from area to area new mechanics and characters are introduced which prevent the track-recording action from getting stale.
The aesthetic is pretty standard, but works really well. It’s a simple cartoon aesthetic as you would expect, but one which expertly merges the game’s own style with that of the films it parodies. The music is a similar story, obviously, but again, it has a classic charm in the way in which it embodies the individual styles of film, whilst retaining an electronica funkiness.
What I particularly love is the aforementioned parody. The four stages; which each consist or a large number of levels, are all based on different films or styles of film, with an appropriate name to fit them. Pirates of the Caribbean comes first; with a character strangely reminiscent of a particular bird-named buccaneer, followed by a Star Wars/Trek themed sci-fi world, a Horror themed world and an Indiana Jones area to round out the collection. With lots of little references, but nothing TOO explicit, they offer an interesting set of levels to adventure through with a lot of stage variation, which should be applauded.
Whilst there is much to love, that doesn’t negate the problems. As far as I can tell there seems to be very few settings, which wouldn’t be a problem on console, but on PC is arguably pretty disappointing. I want to play the game in a window or my native resolution, and I should be able to. The fact it seems locked to a quite low resolution accompanied with the full-screen nature has led to quite a few problems on my machine. There is also no sign of key rebinding, which is again disappointing as the default layout isn’t really that intuitive.
However, all in all I think there is a lot to like about VHS is not Dead. It’s really very fun to play in short bursts, and deserves a good look if you like this Genre, when it releases this year!