PING 1.5+ (Wii U eShop) Review
PING 1.5+ is the latest indie puzzle game to hit the Australian Wii U eShop; enticing would-be buyers with its colourful retro-styled polygons and pulsating electronic soundtrack. Like many puzzle games before it, it invites players to be challenged by the difficulty within. Unfortunately, PING 1.5+ is challenging for all the wrong reasons.
Developer Nami Tentou sells the arcade puzzler by saying “Get frustrated in trying to beat all of the stages; this game isn’t for the weakhearted”. If by “frustrated”, they meant “exasperated at the sheer amount of bugs, glitches and lag preventing me from being able to reasonably play this game”, they passed with flying colours.
The premise is a simple one; move a white block from its starting position, to an orange sphere at the end of the stage. To do this, the player uses the gamepad’s touch screen to drag a line from the block to set its trajectory and speed, and releasing the touch input slings the unassuming block on its course, bouncing off of any obstacles along the way. The gamepad buttons can be used, but the touch screen works best for precise control.
The trick is that the block must reach the orange sphere under a set amount of bounces, otherwise it explodes and resets the level. Bouncing off a wall, or an obstacle counts as one bounce, and the levels are designed so the player must use walls economically to reach the goal. Stars are awarded after finishing a level based on performance; a bronze star is awarded for finishing the level, while silver and gold stars are reserved for finishing with as few bounces as possible.
There is enough variety in the puzzles to avoid monotony, with moving walls and obstacles placed specifically to provide many moments of advertised frustration. Later levels allow the player to make more than one direction change to the block, so it can change direction mid-flight. This becomes necessary with the intricately designed late-game levels. Everything slows down when lining up a change of direction, which allows for a welcome brief moment of clarity before the chaos ensues once more. Some of these later levels are rather clever and are satisfying to finish when you’ve finally figured out the best approach to the finish.
A number of bonus boss battles are scattered throughout the game, which pay homage to games such as Space Invaders and Asteroids, but they do not add anything to the experience. The control scheme does not translate well to these spinoff levels, making them feel like cheap imitations of the games they are based on. One of the bonus levels did not respond to any control inputs, which rendered it unplayable. Thankfully, you do not need to finish each level in order to progress.
PING 1.5+’s performance struggled phenomenally on the Wii U. Load times in between levels and resets were fractionally long enough to interrupt flow, which was accentuated when retrying a level after falling victim to the unforgivable lag. Many levels had various animations in the background which I assume were meant to be intentionally distracting, but these levels suffered from horrendous puzzle-ruining lag. For a game so heavily reliant on precision and timing, to have any lag whatsoever is unacceptable. For it to happen so regularly, it reserves itself a special place in puzzle game hell.
To compound this, hit-detection was unreliable at best, with the block ricocheting off thin air at times. In some instances, the block would hit a wall on the edge of the playing area, and vanish completely, forcing a retry in order to continue. Some of the later levels remix previous levels by spinning it continually – these are among the worst of the game because the block bounces off surfaces at illogical angles, making it impossible to plan your approach. Again, to reiterate a previous point, a game so fixated on precision simply cannot allow this. Worst of all, there were at least two levels which caused my Wii U to crash each time I attempted them – a hard reset and skipping the level was my only option when this occurred.
Other games in different genres with a brutal difficulty give the players the mechanics to succeed, and the challenges to overcome. Dark Souls comes to mind, as does one of my favourite games of 2016, Furi. These games are ball-bustingly hard at times, but they are never unfair. Each failure teaches the player something or punishes a mistake on the player’s end. PING 1.5+ does the complete opposite. Its mechanics only occasionally offer the player some semblance of fairness, which, in the puzzle genre, is inexcusable.
The redeeming feature of PING 1.5+ is its soundtrack. A blend of thumping drum loops and catchy synths punctuate each world, which helps to soothe some of the slow loading times. Even now, I have some of the tracks ear-worming their way into my head. If the gameplay was up to the same standard as the soundtrack, I would recommend this without question.