Please Standby for your irregular viewing
I have a theory that gamers are predisposed to bouts of masochism. What other possible explanation can there be for our repeated forays into hair-tearingly difficult territory? Games like Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls III have legions of fans, and the demand for similarly frustrating titles keeps growing exponentially. With that in mind, we’ve been treated again to yet another super hard platformer in the form of Standby. Does it deserve recognition in the halls of hard-won victories?
Standby‘s story is lightweight and purely meta-referential material. You play the role of a secret agent adorned with a fedora, green shirt, and an apparent permanent smirk. He’s trying to escape the very game he’s in, which seems to be overrun with an assortment of troublesome-yet-attractive glitches. To accomplish this, he has traverse rather small obstacle courses with his arsenal of parkour moves and stunts, shooting down barriers and taking care not to walk on treacherous red terrain.
The game takes its cue from a hodgepodge of sources. It’s easy to see the influence of the aforementioned Super Meat Boy, along with Dustforce, Electronic Super Joy, N++, and Volgarr the Viking, among many others. Levels are bite-sized and require the execution of a stream of stunts which can be memorized in a rote fashion. Deaths are frequent, brutal, and the game demands razor-sharp reflexes from those who dare to invest time and cash into it.
But herein lies the rub, and it’s a pretty big rub. Standby is nowhere near as well-made as the list of tough games I provided above. They were all difficult, but all of them possessed tight, responsive, and intuitive control systems. With Super Meat Boy, the controls felt like a natural extension of your hands, and whenever you (frequently) fell to your death in a bottomless pit, you knew it was your own fault. With Standby, it sometimes like the controls work against you, lacking the same flow. The greatest offender in this regard is the jump mechanic, chiefly because it’s impossible to adjust a jump’s momentum and direction once it’s been executed. Our intrepid agent can perform a straight downward dash when in the air, but otherwise you’re stuck on your trajectory. Many of the deaths result from this, and it’s more frustrating than fun. I also frequently found myself pressing the wrong keys when an action was required of me, but I was able to circumvent this setback somewhat by using a controller, which the game suggests in any case.
Nonetheless, there is some pleasure to be had here, once you wrap your head around the controls. It’s genuinely challenging, and pulling off the correct sequence of moves properly certainly does trigger the right pleasure centers in the brain. The competitive angle is high in Standby, being built with speedruns and leaderboards in mind. Unfortunately, it lacks any type of multiplayer. If you’re into tough platformers and you have some mates you could rope into playing this with, it would have the potential to be a superb little party game, the type you play on a couch with pretzels and beers. The lack of such a mode is an unfortunate oversight on the developer’s part.
The aesthetic is part retro, part neon psychedelic. The agent’s sprite is tiny but workable, and the levels are constructed of simple geometric shapes. Most of the outer boundaries are black, producing an effect much like negative space that helps players to focus on the level’s path without distractions. It bares a resemblance to the equally minimalist design seen in N++. However, in keeping with its “glitch” theme, Standby employs many effects such as flickering colors and screen tilting to make the experience a bit more edgy. Those familiar with developer Noclip’s games with find this to be a common theme, and Standby continues this tradition. The soundtrack is perhaps the greatest aspect, featuring a meaty collection of electro tracks with varying degrees of danceability. Best of all, you can change the track at any time, and the selection is eclectic enough to appeal to all play styles.
Standby is an extremely challenging 2D parkor-style game that will appeal to fans of fast-paced, twitchy platformers. Sadly, it doesn’t quite match the brilliance of games that came before it, and the unrefined controls somewhat poil what would otherwise be an extremely addictive experience. The lack of multiplayer is another blight. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in upcoming builds, but as it stands, this game is mainly geared towards the most hardened of masochists looking for some glory in online leaderboards. If you count yourself among their ranks, then you can grab Standby by visiting its official Steam page, or at least try out the demo.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: HypeTrain Digital ; Developer: Noclip ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 7 January, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review copy of Standby given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.