You know the feeling. One moment you're romping around and enjoying the quiet life as a wild boar running across meadows and chasing butterflies, and and the next you're in a minefield that blasts a hole in the ground, revealing a shaft so deep that you die the instant you hit bottom. And then you're revived by a mysterious electric gizmo, and while trying to find your way out of the pit, you suddenly find yourself in a large, empty bank vault, get accused of stealing all its jewels, and are forced to replace them by working for the mine owner. Oh, and the owner is also a talking pig in shirt and tie, and all his servants are also speaking pigs. Except office staff, they are moles.
Well, okay, you probalby don't know the feeling. But that is the setup in Full Bore, the charming, gorgeous, refined and challenging puzzle game debut from Whole Hog Games.
There is so much to praise about Full Bore. The core mechanics are relatively simple - you navigate through the mines and unearth gems by digging through different types of soil - but you'll figure out new ways to use the fairly simple set of actions you have as you progress. Soon, you're pushing around boxes to create new paths through the terrain, and later on lasers, batteries, switches and much more joins the fun.
If you mess up and get yourself stuck or otherwise make a puzzle unsolvable, (and that will happen, regularly), there's a glorious rewind feature that lets you retrace all your steps or go back to the last checkpoint, and thus undo your mistakes and bad decisions.
Some puzzles are quite straightforward and obvious. Others are tough and require careful planning to tackle, as certain squares of soil have to be removed in a particular order, to allow you to push boxes to certain places, and in these cases it's not unusual to have to think 10-20 "moves" ahead before you put your snout to the ground.
I have encountered several puzzles that I simply gave up solving because I got a headache thinking about them. Fortunately, you actually have that option, as one of Full Bore's strokes of genius is the fact that the game world is largely open, and there are often several routes between its different areas. It is rarely a requirement that you have to solve the most difficult puzzles in order to progress.
Full Bore's many qualities slowly sneak up on you. It is refreshingly subtle in its approach, and rarely does it deal in grand gesticulation. While at first you just accept the talking pigs as just being part of the game, as you descend into the mines you'll begin unraveling the explanation behind the trippy circumstances. You'll regularly find small computer terminals that tells the backstory - about greed , gene experiments, failures and more - and it turns out eventually that Full Bore is much more than just a story about an adorable pig that digs for gems. The atmosphere becomes progressively more mysterious the further down you go, and you feel like playing simply because you want to get to the bottom of what the hell is going on.
The subtlety also applies to the game's technical aspect. The style is pixel-nostalgic, but for instance the lighting is absolutely gorgeous. Small details, like how light reflects off your character and onto the surroundings, does wonders for the mood and feel of being deep underground. In addition, the animations are downright excellent. Your boar looks so adorable, patient and persistent when repeatedly banging its head against an unmovable surface. It brings back memories of old Disney platform games like Aladdin and The Lion King, which is a big, big compliment.
Likewise, the controls are exactly as sharp as one would hope. You almost exclusively use the WASD keys and the spacebar, and before long you'll be whizzing up and down the platforms and scaffolding as if you had never done anything else.
Full Bore might appear as a modest project. It's not as embellished in indie cred and hype as Fez or Braid, and the basic idea is so laid-back and silly that it might invite to you to not take it seriously, but that is exactly the game's strength. There is no stress and no exaggerated expectations, and that's why you'll be gently pulled into its mysteries until you can't put it down. Full Bore is a wonderful puzzle platformer that you should not miss.