The level starts. You maneuver a little to the left, a little to the right, just to get a bearing on how strong your gas jets are. Perfect. Without so much as batting an eye, you fly off the starting platform and hover through a tunnel coated in remorseless spikes, top and bottom. Weaving between mines in the air that detonate but a hair's breadth from your back, you eventually come face to face with a lightning fence that activates every few seconds. Waiting patiently for the electricity to dissipate, you know full well that a little too much gas or not quite enough will result in you becoming a permanent part of the decor. Is this "Extreme Jumpjet Fighter 4," you might ask? No, this is Hash, the latest arcade-style dodgefest from Ali Maunder's Alternative Indie Games.
Your character, the titular hash mark, moves around the levels via gas jets that are activated with the [arrow] keys. Either [Esc] or the [P] key will pause your game. Every level is populated by a number of glistening dots, which bolster your score should you collect them. Of course, as the levels progress, some of those dots will be tucked inside tight rings of mines, or in enemy-infested territory, or even within grids of those nasty, aforementioned lightning fences. Whenever you've picked up enough dots or just plain had enough, touching down on the glowing diamond in every level finishes your stay.
Analysis: The game's minimalist graphics work well, especially when coupled with the old-fashioned arcade objectives and the lively music, which sounds like an 8-bit tune being hammered out by the guy who plays "The Entertainer" in Western saloons. There's a frenzied energy that powers the whole game, from the jittery main menu to the ever-shifting background colors. It's constantly urging you to move, to react, to blast right through that next obstacle with a smile on your face. Unfortunately, blasting through that next obstacle isn't always that simple.
It's certainly modeled after arcade games of yore, which means the difficulty level is scaled accordingly. Most of the early levels aren't too tough, but just you wait until Level 18. I promise that after Level 18, though, things get easier again (for a while, anyway). There's a sharp discrepancy in challenge between the player just going for the exit in every level, and the player painstakingly trying to collect every dot. Sometimes, it just plunks the exit down, virtually in front of you, and you can either hop right on through or attempt an agonizing roller-coaster of dexterity trying to get all those dots, nestled comfortably in a jungle-gym of game-restarting spikes. So, it all boils down to how hardcore you are about getting the high scores. It might have been nice to offer some other reward for the earnest player, but if this is the kind of game that really revs your jumpjets, then the visceral satisfaction of the high score is probably all the reward you need.