Bits and Pieces
The first thing I noticed when playing Bits and Pieces, David Lorentz's new platform game, was what a crazy good jumper its pixelated protagonist is. I mean, yeah, most platform heroes wouldn't make it through screen one if they couldn't jump five times their own height, but this dude easily launches himself off like a bottle rocket at the slightest provocation. Good thing though, as making it to the artistically confusing finish will require quite a bit of hopping and/or bopping. And it's a load of fun.
Arrow keys move you left and right, and [X] makes you jump (something you'll be doing quite a bit.) Running into enemies depletes your health, but jumping on enough of them or grabbing a power-up give you energy to perform special moves. The controls are standard, the world you move in isn't. Interestingly, the power bar is represented by "Glutamate," literally Brain Power, and losing health seems to revert you to earlier stages of evolution.
Analysis: Games based around jumping have sort of a bad reputation. Certainly it's an action that's hard to replicate in the 3-D environments of most modern games, but even in two dimensions, even the slightest bit of lag or unresponsiveness of the controls can be a real killjoy. Fortunately the programming is up to the challenge. True, the hovering mechanic is hit and miss, and it sometimes got frustrating when I jumped off the top of the screen. However it's the kind of frustrating that makes want to try again until you succeed.
As for the plot... Bits and Pieces is open to interpretation, and my own tends to be a bit more navel-gazey than most. However, I personally took it to serve as an intriguing comparison between the "kill or be killed" mechanics of simpler arcade games and the amorality of the animal kingdom. Why do lions hunt gazelles? If they didn't, they wouldn't survive. Why do gamers shoot down Space Invaders? If we don't, we lose a life. Certainly more complex games give more complex motivations (i.e. Why is that plumber climbing those girders and jumping over those barrels? Because he wants to rescue his girlfriend from the ape that has kidnapped her), but in simple games like Bits and Pieces, literally everything that I input is purely for the survival of my little avatar. I "kill" dozens of creatures as they try to "kill" me, but there's nothing personal about it. It's just that if I didn't do it, my character wouldn't survive.
Do games like this reveal the animalistic side of the arcade? As goofy as it seems on the surface, it's hard to deny something primal in the sensation of "fun." And certainly, while I personally may be reading too much into it (as I said I tend to do that), it doesn't hurt that "fun" is a sensation that Bits and Pieces certainly evokes.
The main flaw of Bits and Pieces is that it does try to do too much in too little space, and as such, parts of it don't particularly mesh. Fans of hop and bop gameplay may find the artistic elements intrusive, fans of more arty games may find the platforming frustrating, and the game may be too short to leave either group completely satisfied (especially with such an abrupt ending). Saying you'll be left wanting more is definitely a double edged sword.
While Bits and Pieces is a short experience, it is also a sweet one, and it has a surprising bit of depth. It's certainly worth a little bit of your time and a piece of your mind.