Ever stop to think about the transition of a game from testing phases to final product? Probably not, but Jonas Kyratzes might give you pause with Alphaland, his new experimental platformer. It starts out simply enough, as Jonas himself has asked you to test his new game, which at the moment consists of rather rudimentary graphics and a single objective; just walk over and grab the token on the screen. Use the [arrow] keys to move, and press the [up arrow] or [spacebar] to jump. Before you can even accomplish Jonas's simple task, however, you find yourself slipping through a crack into a place you were never meant to go. Explore, experiment, gather tokens and "power-ups", and keep searching for the end... whatever the end may be.
Alphaland's biggest failing might be that it won't grab enough people from the very beginning; unless you're familiar with his work and the knowledge that "it's a Jonas Kyratzes game" is enough to immediately engage you and lift your expectations, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's not much to the game and immediately dismissing it after a few minutes. Early gameplay is very simple, but you can't really shake the feeling that you're lost, and that alone may be frustrating enough for some players to quit. It's hard to criticize it from a technical angle when the game itself is so simple, except perhaps to say that some of the jumping through more crowded or narrow areas might become frustrating because of how blocky everything is. If there was a sound-effect for colliding with the scenery, you could have changed the name to "BONK! the game".
Instead, Alphaland's strength lies in its subtle mood and slowly unfolding, sparsely revealed narrative. It's strictly "show, don't tell", and by doing so has created a piece of work that will live or die for a particular player on the story or emotions they take away from it because the gameplay is so very simple. Whether you find the tale heavy-handed or uplifting is entirely up to you, and you won't hear me say boo about it. As for myself, perhaps the greatest compliment I can offer Jonas Kyratzes as a storyteller is that despite my cynicism and initial reaction to the gameplay, I reached the end and found myself actually tearing up a little. (No, no, it's okay. I went and bullied one of the neighbour's kids until I felt tough again.) Obviously, as the informercials say, results are not typical, but Kyratzes has undeniably once again managed to create another game designed to make you think and, more importantly, make you feel.