He slimed me.
-Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters
A game about an anthropomorphic green glob kicked my butt!
Slime-san is a critically acclaimed, retro-inspired brutal platformer courtesy of the developers at Fabraz (Planet Diver, Wild Wild Pixel) and publisher Headup Games, to whom I’m thankful for the copy of this game I received for PS4. Slime-san, to put it bluntly, is a lot harder than green gelatin. More on that later.
The eponymous Slime-san was innocently mucking about the woods before he was swallowed by a gigantic mama worm on a warpath. Finding himself wedged deep inside her guts, Slime-san must make the epic journey through a realm of innards, from colon to maw, in order to escape and defeat the slithering menace. Along the way he’ll be confronted by tidal waves of stomach acid, geysers of digestive fluid, barriers of bone, corroding platforms, doppelgangers in hot pursuit, intestinal distress, monstrous bosses, errant gravity, harrowing baby worms in mama’s belly, and the ubiquitous brutal platformer obstacle: spinning buzzsaws.
It’s a long road to go from hors d’oeuvre to victor. 100 levels, most of which are made of mini-stages, and that’s just the main campaign.
Anus just great?
The voracious worm has not only swallowed Slime-san but many other denizens of the forest, as well. Slime-san can locate these survivors, many of which are found in secret passageways, and bring them together in a makeshift township stylized for some reason after a Japanese metropolis. Apartments, markets, slums, a bank, a dojo, even an arcade are helmed by these survivors and Slime-san can trade with them for his bric-a-brac and upgrades. Movesets, filters, mini-games await.
The residents of the newly-formed Slumptown may seem more content than Jonah in the belly of the giant but they need some liberation, and you’re the only one slimey enough to set them free.
I’ll let you know right away that the NPCs really bring this game to life (I was just commenting on great NPCs in EarthBound recently). Stan L33t? Meryl Cheep? That’s just brilliant. Slime-san is a game with a silly/gross out premise that carries the charm through the entire cast of yokai and talking animals.
Superslime Edition unites multiple additions, patches, and additional content under one roof for a compilation of a game that features a ton of content. The original 2017 game is big enough with lots to do, secrets to hunt down, items to snag, goods to purchase, and levels to crunch but Superslime Edition nearly doubles the size of the game with New Game +, Boss Rush and Speedrunner modes, Dynamic Colors to mix up the visuals, new hubs, shops, and NPCs, and the latest additional campaigns. At 160 levels, I for one was blown away by how much was here after struggling through the main story mode itself.
Beside being swallowed by the worm, the Blackbird’s Kraken campaign finds Slime-san and his family on holiday at sea only to be gulped again by another gigantic creature, this time an oceanic leviathan. I hope they have some swallowed-by-a-monster insurance.
Sheeple’s Sequel takes one of my favorite NPCs and converts the game into a digital torture chamber. Sheeple was a resident of Slumptown and a survivor of the worm’s assault who believed he was just a non-playable character in a video game. He tried to prove to everyone that their world wasn’t real but he just came off as a babbling nut. Well, now he’s set himself up as a villain and concocted a series of horrible challenges for Slime-san to overcome, taunting the heroic ball of goop into his ridiculous, fourth-wall-breaking stages.
Finally (yes, there’s still more), you can find the exclusive Superslime special levels, all 10 of them. “Big screaming deal, what’s 10 levels to me?” you say. Hang on, you pretentious mook, these are “special” levels. Each of them are friggin’ tough (I’ve completed just one of them) and they have their own unique set of rules confining you to play as one of Slime-san’s movesets, some of which you can only encounter here.
The brutal platformer subgenre is no joke, as those who have played games like Super Meat Boy can tell you. I’ve had my own run-in with these games now and then, perhaps most recently with Alteric and Shadow Bug, and they’re always like someone who brings a stick of dynamite to a knife fight. This is coming from someone who grew up with retro platformers, I’ll have you know, and those aren’t particularly accustomed to a reputation for playing nice. However, subgenres like bullet hell and brutal platformers don’t exactly translate the kind of difficulty we saw in old console and arcade games. They take things to an extreme palatable to those with a high tolerance to ghost peppers, or the digital equivalent anyway. This is why I’m comfortable explaining Slime-san as retro-inspired at most, because it is much more a modern indie game than it is anything you might’ve seen way back when.
Taking a few examples to illustrate what I mean isn’t hard since several other writers and reviewers have already comparisons, yet perhaps without going beyond the superficial “this NES game was pretty tough and so is Slime-san so they’re the same!” I’ve seen games like Contra, Super Mario Bros., and Mega Man II cited. These are particularly iconic from an era of seemingly perpetual nostalgia and many of you reading this will probably remember them as being rather difficult. Super Mario Bros. required players to get a sense of its fine-tuned physics and momentum, Mega Man II had those disappearing/reappearing blocks and boss fights that demanded memorization, and Contra was probably the most unforgiving of the bunch, but these three and other like them functioned with lives and continues systems. Dying meant losing a life and restarting the stage (excepting later games with checkpoints) while losing the last of your lives often meant restarting the entire game or at least a series of stages (some had password systems to minimize this). This made bosses waiting at the end of stages all the more imposing because dying in a fight with them meant playing the stage or a chunk of it, or even potentially the entire game, all over again.
Left: Slower trial and error, memorization, and timing vs Right: Faster timing, reflexes, trial and error.
That sounds pretty brutal, right? Well, the fundamental difference is in the structure of the stages themselves. And no, this is not a lead-in to a paragraph about how things were so much better back in the day.
Steep challenge has the potential to glue you to the tube. Raising stakes such as losing time or progression makes challenge all the more potent. Slime-san handles challenge differently than retro games because its stages are not long journeys with dangers spread out over the distance. Its stages are almost always single screen obstacle courses stuffed to the brim with hazards, designed to cause you to perish within seconds. As there is no lives or continues system in Slime-san, you’re welcome to butt your head up against these hazards as many times as you like. The only things you’ll lose are your own free time and precious seconds on the timer if you’re in it to speedrun.
Slime-san adopts a degree of refinement and precision that’s crucial to navigating its teeny stages. While these things were important in previous platformers, they didn’t demand so much from the player in so small of a space with much less risk. Memorization of patterns is still important but my instincts tell me less so; Slime-san operates at a pace that’s attuned more to the level of muscle memory and reflexes rather than the pre-meditated activities of previous knowledge. So, yes, retro-inspired at most but it’s much more (or less, depending on who you’re asking) than a true retro game. The general stakes are lowered while the demand is higher. You don’t have to worry about running out of lives but if you’re like me then you simply might not have the skill anymore or at all to best all the game’s levels.
For those looking for a speedrunning challenge or a bit of exquisite pain in platforming, look no further.
“In its belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a… thousand years.”
The 8-bit Review
It always bears explaing when one gives what is perceived to be a low score to pixel graphics, and I don’t want to run the risk of being misconstrued, that I believe a purposefully pixelated game with the intent of a specific look is bad compared to modern AAA games outside of its context. Slime-san has as its visual strengths the power of its quirkiness. Its characters and environments are fleshed out interestingly and it’s tough to find a single creature that isn’t embued with massive amounts of creativity from the developers and designers that crafted this world. Encountering new NPCs for Slumptown is consistently a delight because they are generally something you wouldn’t expect.
Praise for its visual creativity aside, we can now get to the fundamentals of Slime-san’s design philosophy. I have seen this game described not as 16-bit or 8-bit but as 5-bit, referencing the five colors which comprise all of its graphics. The normal color scheme is white, green, red, light blue, and dark blue, though these can be changed via filters and options, including modes designed for the color blind (which is an awesome level of accessibility that brings my score up a notch). The white designates safe spots which Slime-san can touch without harm. The green represents our hero, interactive objects, and “friendly” enemies. The red is always a hazard and touching something red in a stage means getting killed. Light and dark blue make up the background of the settings. The dynamic colors filter switches up these colors (as seen above) but it is always a set of five hues.
The problem here is that there are some stages which are so complex and intricate, so cluttered with objects and enemies that five colors is not enough to provide the eye with an easy means of differentiation. I found myself having to sit for a minute at the start of each stage and study what lay ahead, otherwise I couldn’t see the obstacles quickly enough to react in time. Having to take time to study a stage isn’t a huge inconvenience on one’s patience, except Slime-san has a time-factor in every stage and picking out the important details became progressively harder. Slime-san himself can easily get lost in those details because he shares the same color with a fifth of them. In this way, I think that Slime-san’s visuals actually work against the player interacting with the game itself. They potentially make it difficult to play an already difficult game and I’m not sure that the retro-throwback, ZX Spectrum-esque appeal was meant to do that (see Deep Ones). Retro visuals have the capacity to be incredibly crisp but here there’s an occasional muddiness that’s more preventative to engagement than welcoming of it.
I’m glad to get this out of the way because it’s the worst thing about Slime-san, though it’s not truly terrible. Everything else is amazing!
Fans of chiptune video game music have been blessed thanks to the resurgence of indie games. Titles like Undertale, Axiom Verge, and Shovel Knight have taken that iconic sound firmly rooted in the misty past of so many childhoods and expanded upon them, updated them, and breathed new vigor into them. What was once a mere technological limitation has become a new stylish trend. Slime-san’s own soundtrack deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with giants from both the modern and the retro chiptune scenes.
It is a compilation composition composed communially by not just one or two but thirteen different musicians (by my count), which lends it an additional layer of impressiveness given its cohesion between so many artists. I’m certain it helped by being constrained to the same flavor of music (chiptune rock/techno), but maintaining that same lighthearted energy, and that something oozing coolness factor, ties the soundtrack together. Different tracks of course play across different worlds and settings but they seem united under the umbrella of Slime-san. Music like this makes me happy indie games exist and not everything in games is just atmospheric orchestra.
“The music complements the game’s pixel art aesthetic but each track was also designed with a certain gameplay aspect in mind. We wanted to create a soundtrack that is worth the price of admission alone, and I think we’ve accomplished that.”
-Fabian Rastorfer, Fabraz
Plus, it is available on vinyl. Doesn’t get much indier than that!
The most striking thing you’ll notice when playing Slime-san for a length of time is how ingenious its level design is. Being a 2D platformer in a long line of 2D platformers, there aren’t too many surprises and Slime-san doesn’t put much into sensationalism. Instead, you’ll find an extreme degree of utility where the developers took all of the simplest components (simple hazards and dangers and obstacles) and arranged them in interesting, unique, and baffling ways.
So for example, jumping from platform to platform suspended in the air over a pit of lava (or in this case, acid) is something we’ve seen since we discovered the princess was in another castle; however, what if in jumping you had to pass through a different platform mid-jump? Slime-san has a morphing ability which renders him both transparent and intangible in regard to green platforms and walls. He can slip safely through these by morphing but the level design frequently orchestrates a mixture of white, green, and red platforms to keep you on edge, switching rapidly between tangible and intangible to safely reach the end of each stage.
Wall-climbing or wall-sliding, dashing, a second jump in the air, air-dashing, and super jumping round out Slime-san’s respectable repertoire of platforming maneuvers, and the levels respond to all of these varied abilities in their design. Slime-san plays at a hectic pace and you’ll come to appreciate the amount of control and refined platforming the game offers while attempting to traverse its miniature stages. Where Super Mario Bros. clarified what platforming could be by giving players the ability to manuever Mario how they liked, slowing his movement even in mid-air, Slime-san all these years later follows in its ancestors’ footsteps by entrusting you with all the movement. It makes playing Slime-san incredibly freeing and, coupled with the additional movesets, it seems as if many stages have multiple routes of completion. The stages feel alive for it and you get a sense of ownership for finding subtle shortcuts around obstacles, heightened even more by the ticking seconds for speedrunners.
Time plays a surprisingly important factor in Slime-san. It was the mechanic I did not expect. Sure, of course there is the surface-value indicator of how time is significant in this game what with its timer racing away in each stage to measure your progress and its countdown in each stage before the wall of stomach acid comes to consume you. Beneath that, though, Slime-san himself has the ability to manipulate time, that is the appearance of speed surrounding the stages’ features.
When morphing, time slows to a crawl. Note this is the appearance of time slowing, not actual time slowing. The timer and countdown tick away normally, though a morph-slow affords you some crucial precision when you need it. However, a dash performed when morphed will speed up time again, briefly, for the duration of the length of the dash itself. This staggering effect can be particularly jarring but it allows the player the chance to manipulate the stages in a new way beyond just jumping through them. Wisely using Slime-san’s time-related abilities may prove them to be his most important manuevers toward completing the game, and further, it creates a special kind of dynamism that removes some of the tyranny of the brutality present in this platformer.
Finally, I want to mention the obtainable items you can find in each stage. In the main campaign, these are apples, though in the other modes they can be other things. Apples represent an extra reward and challenge within a stage. Instead of just reaching the exit, you are given the choice to make things harder on yourself and snag the apple before completion, or you can bypass it and save Slime-san’s life. Some stages place apples in incredibly tough to reach spots and their countdowns can be so short that it may seem impossible to get to the fruit and the finish in time. In this manner, the difficulty of Slime-san fluctuates depending on how much of a collector you are, if you want to “master” the game or just “finish” it.
For your trouble, apples can be carried back to Slumptown where they represent the in-worm currency. Filters, movesets, artwork, etc. can be purchased and collected. One of the most important uses I found for apples was purchasing level skips from one shady character to bypass three stages I simply could not beat.
Slime-san can quickly become frustrating. It may feel as if you’re the tide dashing itself endlessly against a stone wall, some of the stages are so impenetrable. Dying dozens of times, or more, isn’t uncommon. The frequency and rate of play, dying and coming back immediately at the same stage, makes it so it feels as if the action never stops. It becomes addicting, pushing you onward to harder and harder stages, giving you that precious sensation of victory. Don’t know what I mean? Take it from a REAL gamer:
The ability to skip levels with a few apples takes some of the air out of the game’s challenge but if you don’t plan to abuse that system, and even more, if you plan to grab all of the items, then you’re in for a heck of a ride.
Slime-san is a real collect-a-thon. Never mind the apples, there are also coins marked with an A that can be found as secrets in the stages. These can be used in the Slumptown arcade to gain access to arcade-style minigames. The items, the movesets, the tidbits to purchase, the multiple hubs in the other campaigns, the various modes, and the 160 stages represent an incredible amount of content. It took me a while to see and enjoy an appreciable sampling of everything, and complete the main portions of the game. The only drawback perhaps lies in the fact that there’s not a whole lot of variety. It’s all platforming through those 160 stages and while that’s top notch, you may eventually grow weary off having your butt handed to you by a retro-throwback super-stage. That said, the replay value is very high.
VHS filter. Accurate!
Those familiar with platformers shouldn’t find too many things in Slime-san that they’ve never really seen before, and those accustomed to brutal platformers will know their way around at least the first half of the main game. There is plenty of space to learn your maneuvers, though some of the most technical aspects of Slime-san’s mobility can remain elusive (I never reliably learned how to super-jump). The game’s difficulty and some of the more puzzling stages eat away a little bit at this game’s accessibility but it is still pretty high without too many exterior systems to worry about beyond reaching the items and the exits in the stages, and mucking about town.
Slime-san is my favorite game about a sentient booger eaten by a huge worm. Seriously, I can’t think of too many premises as strange and silly as this one, unless you dreamt up a kawaii Pinocchio who gets devoured by an invertebrate instead of a whale. This is the magic of the indie scene: way more surprises than you can find anywhere else in modernity.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Wow, Slime-san is smarter, harder, and much faster than I anticipated it would be. On the surface, it looks like a childish, cartoonish romp to play at leisure, but indies have taught us otherwise, haven’t we? Never judge a game by its cover. You may lose out on some surprises that way. Sure every once in a while you’ll come across a stinker that you don’t really enjoy, but expanding your horizons by playing games outside your comfort zone is a great feeling when a game ends up dazzling your soul. Or tearing out your heart and grinding it into the dust with its heel, as was the case with Slime-san’s torturous final stages!
Thank you again to Fabraz and Headup Games for the copy of this game we received for review.
Aggregated Score: 7.9
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Categories: Game Review