Planet of the Forklift Kid started life as a random mish-mash of unconnected words spat out by the stupefyingly entertaining Video Game Name Generator (warning: adult language). But it took artist/programmer John Nesky to make something coherent out of it. The resulting game is faithful to its title. If ever there lived a Forklift Kid, this would be his planet. It's a lonely place, populated mainly by crates, but our hero seems content with the life he's been given; a lot like The Little Prince, but with forklifts.
Planet of the Forklift Kid is a whimsical physics-based platform puzzle game, controlled with the keyboard. Press [left] and [right] to walk, [up] to press switches, and [space] to jump. Press [R] to restart a level if you get stuck. Each level features at least one forklift, of course, and you can operating these simply by stepping into the cab from the rear. Press the arrow keys to drive left and right, or to move the forklift's tines up and down. Press [space] to exit the cab.
At the menu screen, you can select one of 8 different levels, all of which are available from the start. Your goal in each level is to reach the exit, usually by operating switches to open the doors blocking your path. Switches on the wall may be turned on and off freely, but the big red buttons must be weighted down by crates or even the forklifts themselves. Sometimes the red buttons are affixed to the ceiling, and you must activate them by holding something against them from below. Lucky you've got a forklift!
Analysis: When I say this is a physics-based game, I mean it is physics-based. The Box2D physics engine is the star of the show here, making each puzzle as much fun to play around with as it is to solve. But Nesky has made some smart decisions to fit the gameplay to the concept. Crates react to most other objects according to their visible outline; but the forklift tines actually interact with a smaller box inside the crate's frame, so that you can stack crates on top of each other and then withdraw the forklift without disturbing them. Try making a tower of crates on level 3. It feels remarkably natural.
Unfortunately, the current incarnation of Planet of the Forklift Kid seems more like a proof of concept than a complete game. The eight levels on offer barely scratch the surface of the possibilities, and I was left wanting much more when I had solved them all. In order to be really compelling, the game would probably need some sort of story structure, and a sense of progression. At the very least, there should be a lot more levels.
But the skeleton of a game that Nesky has created is so charming and odd that it's worth playing anyway. The nub-limbed, doe-eyed Forklift Kid couldn't be more adorable. The forklifts are designed to be compact and versatile, so even though they can't turn around, you can accomplish quite a lot by just manipulating them cleverly. They are unusually nimble, for forklifts, and cute. They would make good action figures.
The sound effects are unassuming, but appropriate. The music—well, I love the music, but it may not be to everyone's taste. You may recognize the composer, Kevin MacLeod, from some of Tonypa's recent games, and he is nothing if not versatile. Planet of the Forklift Kid is an all-around well-crafted game that is simply light on content. Here's looking forward to a sequel or an expansion for this brilliant beginning.