Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage. I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for avoiding the solid black lines of architectural blueprints as they whiz by at unsafe speeds while you struggle to stay upright on your bicycle built for DEATH.
I love that old tune. So romantic. Fig. 8, the new title from Greg Wohlwend and Intuition Games, is a keyboard avoider, a game where you steer a bicycle across an overhead view of a great white plane full of diagrams and figures. Steer your bike with the [arrow] keys; the [right] key turns you clockwise, the [left] key turns you counter-clockwise, [up] speeds you up, and [down] slows you down. The [shift] key keeps your turn radius to a gradual curve. Black lines, even those that are part of numbers and letters, will topple your tender vehicle with a single touch. So get used to the controls with all due haste.
The background, a lovingly stylized field of strong lines and italic script that may remind you of the weather diagram motif from Effing Hail, scrolls along without any input from you. All you control is the position of your fragile bicycle on the screen. At first, this is no great tragedy, since the diagrams are small and the white spaces vast, but before the third checkpoint you'll be groaning for mercy, as mammoth illustrations of shrubs and fences sweep across the screen like a plague from the god of technical drawing.
If you somehow master the survival aspect of the game, consider mastering the scoring mechanic. The bicycle's rear wheel follows the front realistically, and both wheels leave a clear track behind. Your score increases automatically, but if you can keep the two wheel tracks together by avoiding sharp turns (and holding the [shift] key), a score multiplier begins to count up. If the tracks separate, the multiplier starts again from zero. Theoretically, you could complete the entire game without breaking that combo. But I know a certain hail of shrubs that doesn't like your chances.
Fig. 8 is presented so lyrically, I almost wish it weren't such a hardcore dodge-fest. I'd like to be able to explore this world of flattened houses and tripwire numbers freely. The summery background music would be suitable for such a game, rather than this arcade-style auto-scrolling arena of pain. What you have is a beautiful but fragile experience, a prolonged moment of zen that can be interrupted with a single wrong move. That's poignant as a message, but as a game, frustrating. Especially with the checkpoints placed so far apart. You'll have to nearly memorize some sections to survive, and not every player wants to do that.
What Fig. 8 has going for it, other than smooth controls and an intimidatingly perfect title, is uniqueness. As with their other games, Intuition Games has built Fig. 8 from a single strange core and never compromised the original vision. Although I can imagine it as a more peaceful game, and therefore one with more casual appeal, I never would have imagined it existing at all before I saw it. Just like The Great Red Herring Chase, Fig. 8 may not be the most comforting game around, but it shouldn't be missed.