– Simon Vallenet
Developed by one man team Kenny Sun, Circa Infinity is based on a prototype he made for the 2014 Ludum Dare. Called Core, the mini game wasn’t extraordinary but the concept and the idea were strong enough for it to be turned into a more evolved game. A year later, Circa Infinity was released on Steam. Once again, it’s the type of bold looking indie game that uses pixel art in a way that won’t appeal to every player. Personally, and I don’t think that’s going to come out as a surprise, I LOVE pixel art when it’s done in a good way.
Circa Infinity, while not being the best pixel art game out there, does something to your brain. The more you play, the more you realise how rich and well-rounded it is. Every little aspect has been carefully thought about and serves a purpose. I might be in way over my head here, but let me explain why Circa Infinity is one of the best indies I’ve played in 2015.
I will try not to go too much into detail as the game keeps on surprising you with its gameplay and its visuals, but before I start I want point out the fact that you actually never stop playing. Even the selection menu is a level per se. Moving your character around to change the settings or select a level is the kind of amusing little detail that makes Circa Infinity stand out even more.
Hands on keyboard, you’re in control of a man (at first, but more on that later) running around circular platforms and you’re goal is to reach the inner circle while avoiding the red devil-like enemies. When you’re on the outside, you can crouch on a ‘pizza slice’ door and enter the circle. Then, when you’re inside, you can jump and reach the smaller ring, which will expand and reveal the next area. Repeat that a good few times until you get to the final circle — recognisable by the whirlwind inside it — to complete a level. Touch an enemy and it’s an instant death; you will then be transported back to the previous circle. Note the existence of empty areas: they’re the equivalent of checkpoints, the possibility of dying being impossible then. Sound confusing? Here’s a video showing you how it plays out:
As I was making it through the first chapter (out of five), I was really enjoying myself. The soundtrack was good and lively and I thought the hypnotic ‘circles within circles’ level design was simply brilliant. I had a true feeling of playing something I had never played before, something original and quirky.
While the first chapter isn’t the most challenging of all, it helps us familiarise ourselves with the game’s puzzling mechanics and I personally think that Circa Infinity’s difficulty curve is very clever.
To break the monotony, every chapter adds a new element of gameplay that will almost completely change the way you play the game. Enemies reacting to your movements, a second character (a woman) diametrically opposed to you, the coloured door system… You thought you mastered the game but it keeps on pushing the boundaries chapter after chapter and it does it so well that the puzzle genre takes over the platform. You will sometimes find yourself waiting for 30 seconds outside a circle just to analyse the enemies’ pattern, to understand what’s going on and to try to visualise what the solution is to reach the inner circle. To give you an idea, the first levels of Circa Infinity can be finished in less than 30 seconds while the last ones will take you around 15-20 minutes.
The gameplay is constantly renewed with inventive ideas and each chapter ends with a boss fight. More than a good surprise, these bosses are quite creative and challenging, apart from the very disappointing final one. Moreover, the bestiary in general is quite various. Enemies can be big, small, immobile, moving, running, jumping, floating, reacting to colour, teleporting (inside/outside a circle). It’s not rare that a lot of them are put together in the same area. Trying to figure out the way to reach the inner circle in later levels while avoiding different types of devils can give you a headache. It’s not a platformer anymore, it’s a vicious puzzle game that requires watchfulness and dexterity.
To talk about issues, sometimes when you die you get transported back to the previous circle directly into an enemy’s position, which automatically kills you again. That very frustrating problem happened to me too many times to be left out as unfortunate and I really think there might be some sort of coding problem regarding the enemies’ script. Thankfully, it’s wasn’t big enough to make me stop playing but it’s the kind of thing that has to be pointed out, as it can spoil the fun.
Another thing you need to know about Circa Infinity is that everything revolves around (see what I did there?) the concept of contrary but complementary forces: black/white, left/right, jumping/crouching. Our two characters also fit that concept: we’re in control of a man and a woman, diametrically opposed, who are chasing each other, but who need to work together to reach the center of this circular world and be reunited.
It’s difficult not to think about the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang when playing Circa Infinity, and I would be curious to see what Kenny Sun has to say about it, especially when we know that a much more ambitious story was supposed to be told. On an early gameplay video uploaded by the developer on his YouTube account, we can see that the game included a narrative. What happened then? The final product doesn’t name the characters and doesn’t include any scenario whatsoever. Why did Kenny Sun decided to get rid of the story? Not that it would change the game loads to have one, its pretty awesome without it, but I think these questions are worth asking.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend Circa Infinity enough. It’s totally the type of games that proves how original indies can be. It’s simple: there’s nothing like it. It’s a crazy, fun and addictive little title that feels as good and refreshing as a breeze in summer. The game plays with you as much as you play with it, and it keeps on surprising you at every chapter with new gameplay mechanics and mesmerising visual upgrades. The experience is beautifully complimented by a great lively soundtrack from brothers Jack and Jim Fay. It’s worth making a special mention for the ending credits track, it reminded me of the beautiful Adagio in D Minor by John Murphy from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.
Still not convinced? Try the demo.