Don't you just hate it when you're trying to live your life peacefully and the entire world shatters into pieces? It sure makes a trip to the shops trickier when you have to hop between chunks of what was once the street to get there, and that's the rough premise of Frecle's 3D platformer Youropa, which has just landed on Steam. Oh, and gravity has decided to work in peculiar ways as well, in case you were wondering.
Now, hearing the phrases "indie 3D platformer" and "Steam" in the same sentence might set the eyeballs rolling at breakneck speed, since these games sit alongside horror titles in the category of 'genres that have way too many games to wade through' on Valve's store. Put the eyeballs back into place for a second though, because this one sets itself apart in a number of major ways, as it's not just your usual recipe of jumping and attacking through colourful environments.
Au contraire, as in fact you can't even jump or attack in this game, and the environments themselves are realistic in the sense that they consist of broken fragments of road, buildings, and concrete for you to hobble across. It's not all gritty realism though, because the inevitable splash of colour comes from you since you're free to decorate your big-headed mascot however you choose, whether that be a watermelon head with one eye or neon pink everywhere and stars on the backside.
So without the option to jump, you have to rely on gravity. Of course with floating chunks above the earth, there is still a 'down' to which you can fall to your doom (each time you die a bit more paint peels off you), but you can keep your feet on the floating island and move in any direction provided that you take the correct route. By that we mean you can stand on anything so long as you stick to the surface as it bends round, so if the road curves around 180 degrees to face the other way, you won't fall off. Basically, if it's a straight ledge drop you'll fall off, but if it curves round then you'll stick to it.
It's not just a lovely zero-gravity saunter through this destroyed realm, as your monstrosity/masterpiece will have to solve puzzles to open doors and proceed onto the next area, which is where the real beauty of the game lies. Each level isn't that huge in size, but still Frecle manages to find a way to keep you scratching your head at each turn, mainly through forcing you to utilise the camera angle that lets you rotate the map. Here you can find out the solution to puzzles hidden just out of view, and because it rides the line so nicely between accessibility and challenge, you walk away satisfied each time rather than frustrated.
Puzzles mostly revolve around lighting up panels in particular patterns on the world's tamest disco floor and stepping on switches, but Frecle keeps things varied by adding elements like moveable boxes and launch pads later on. You'll know how to use these if you've played 3D platformers before, but the fact that you can walk on any and all surfaces and find the solutions to puzzles hidden away - sometimes in plain sight - means that we found this to be a breath of fresh air rather than a stale rehash of old ideas.
There is a downside to Youropa's core concept, and when waddling around and turning your nose up to gravity it's not always the most pleasant experience, and we actually felt a little motion sick at times, we're surprised to say. You might've noticed we've used the word "waddling" and "hobble" so far as well, and that's because your character walks tediously slowly and hasn't got the most precise turning we've ever seen, and that doesn't make things easier when the next fall can be Game Over.
In fairness though, there's no better game to be walking around at a leisurely pace in, as the environments are gorgeous to behold and it's wonderful to see them poised delicately above the earth. Hell, even the graffiti and the overgrown concrete looks great in its own sort of way, and the lighting bathes everything in this orange glow that soothes the soul, as does the very delicate music that accompanies the journey.
In a world where 3D platformers are a dime a dozen, especially on Steam, it's nice to see Frecle really think outside, around, and on the underside of the box. They've made use of every square inch of each level, decorated it all wonderfully, and thought carefully about each challenge, and it's this careful consideration piled into every step of the game that makes it such an engaging experience throughout. Sure, it's a little slow, but who would want to rush through such a lovely world?