Retro platformers have been making a real comeback. It seems like with every new generation of video games, players keep longing for the games that got them hooked in the first place. But it’s always great seeing a new and original title hit the scene, and newcomer FreakZone, has shown that he knows what it takes to create a true NES like experience with his last game, Awesome Land. Now, with that title under his belt, FreakZone has released another retro platformer, MANOS – The Hands of Fate, and this time around, he’s taken everything he’s learned since releasing Awesome Land and thrown it together in a great gaming package.
Mike and his family have gotten lost while on vacation, and they couldn’t have picked a worse spot to get lost in. Now Mike, armed with a gun, needs to get his wife, daughter, and dog, safely home before the monsters wind up getting the best of them. Like many platformers, the game doesn’t really rely on the story to drive the game, but it does help explain why you’re fighting massive rats and avoiding floating skulls. It also opens up a fairly wide variety of environments and situations which you’ll be able to run, jump, and shoot your way out of.
Like we’ve said numerous times before, a huge part of having solid platform gameplay relies heavily on the controls, physics, and inertia. With Manos, they’re all NES perfect. With the controls, you’re given left/right arrows, and jump/shoot buttons. They’re placed just right, and you don’t need to pick your finger up to change movement directions, which really helps the fluidity of the gameplay. The physics and inertia are what you would expect from a top-notch old-school title. Not too floaty, not too heavy, not stiff or loose, and landing on one block platforms is a piece of cake, and never winds up being something that you’ll need to struggle with throughout the game. With the game being Universal, the controls on the iPad are also very important. You’ll be happy to hear that the buttons are positioned closer to the edges, and in the corners so that you don’t need to reach inward towards the center of the screen in order to move. Though being able to position the buttons wherever you’d like to would be ideal, and is something I really hope is included in a future update, the current controls work well enough to enjoy the game.
The level design is top notch, though there are some aspects of the design that I didn’t completely agree with in the beginning. For instance; There’s a lot of screen changing done with stairs. These stairs often go down. However, if you jump just a pixel beyond the stairs, you won’t land on the stairs on the screen beneath, you wind up dying. This is kind of frustrating, and hard to understand at first, but as you progress through the game, and see all of the areas that you can reach by not going down stairs, and by trying to jump, and maneuver around enemies and hazards in order to get there, you see why it was done that way. If you could just fall into a screen under where you were, there wouldn’t really be any consequences for missing a jump, or running into a rotating spike. Though since the game is also centered around speed-runs, falling down screen after screen could have been an even better deterrent from screwing up at those parts, it would also make it easy to fly through a couple screens. And now I completely understand why it is the way it is, and feel I should praise FreakZone for giving thought to every angle, and coming up with the best solution for things like this throughout the entire game.
Now, as you manage to find your way through each level, you’ll come across many stone hands. When shot, they usually reveal either a health pick-up, extra life, or a gem. There are also special hands which increase the amount of hit points you have, however, most of these will require some searching. And here’s where the two GameCenter leaderboards and replay value come in. In GameCenter, there’s two boards, one for score, and one for how long it takes for you to complete the game. With the stone hands, you can either take your time, look around and explore, finding all of the hands you can, and racking up all the points you can find, collecting extra lives and increasing your available hit points, or you can avoid everything, and try and find the quickest route from point A to point B. Personally, I love when games offer up two or more possible ways of playing, and here, FreakZone nailed it.
With no save spots, and having to start from Stage 1 every time you start up the game, it truly feels like an old-school plat former. Though being kind of short, with only 7 levels, they‘re fairly large, and will take a while to complete your first couple of times through. The graphics, sounds, as well as gameplay, level design and mechanics are all great as well, making it stand out as one of the better retro platformers available. Manos – The Hands of Fate provides a challenge, and is a game that, even after you complete it, has what it takes to keep you coming back time and time again, trying to better your score, or shave seconds off your time. If it was released back in the 80’s it would have easily been a huge hit. With the game being Universal, and priced at $1.99, it’s a must buy for fans of the genre. Since the release of Awesome Land, FreakZone has nailed everything it takes to produce a top-notch retro platformer, and I hope to see many more titles flow out of their studio.