Amil is a good guy to have around. Sure, he may look like a footlocker and have unsettling pink bags under his eyes, but if your dog or cat or other pet should ever fall down a mine shaft leading to a subterranean geothermic engineering project of dubious provenance, Amil is your go-to fellow. Created by Robert Stone, Amil is a gravity-switching platformer with retro stylings and just a scintilla of RPG flavor.
The game begins after a brief tutorial and a slightly less brief prologue. The [arrow] keys make Amil move and jump about, while the [spacebar] lets him talk to folks, enter doors, and otherwise interact with the environment. When you finally enter the mines, the heart of the game begins, where you can switch gravity to overcome obstacles with the [WASD] keys. Avoid pitfalls, spikes, and treacherous lava flows, while escorting poor Tony's animal chums safely to the surface.
Analysis: The prologue and epilogue to Amil are a little strange, as they feel for all the world like an RPG, with Zelda-like conversations with townsfolk pertaining to the backstory of the game. Amil's world is very richly realized, and I feel like there is much more to explore, yet it all seems ancillary to the main game, which is an unadulterated action platformer. I get the sense that Amil was originally a much more ambitious project that was scaled back a bit, but as a consequence a lot of thoughtful background was rendered sadly superfluous. Perhaps we will see more of Amil's world further developed in future games.
Let's not dwell on what Amil could have been, and instead focus on what it is: a clever puzzle platformer with a nifty gravity mechanic. Now there have been a lot of gravity manipulation games lately, but Amil stands out, in part because of the controls. For simplicity, many gravity games opt to exclude jumping as a means of movement. Amil opts to make jumping an important part of navigating the levels. This is a boon, because it means there are a lot more choices than simply switching gravity to follow a pre-determined path, which allows for much more complex and satisfying levels.
It's also a bit of a curse, because you have to think about moving and jumping and gravity-switching, and it takes a bit of adjustment to keep those three modes of movement straight. There is also the perennial issue of how to orient controls; many gravity games set the controls relative to the main character, such that left and right are relative to which way gravity is facing. Amil opts for an absolute perspective, such that the [arrow] keys always move Amil in the same direction on the screen, no matter where he is standing. This works pretty smoothly, actually, but it leads to some mind-bending situations, like pressing the [left] arrow key to jump if gravity is facing rightward. I completed the game just fine, but I never did feel completely comfortable with the controls.
The game is decidedly old-school in both it's look and gameplay, even with the more new-school use of gravity switching. The graphics are colorful and pixilated, and the soundtrack is full of groovy chiptune music. The levels are chockablock with coins, hearts, spikes, and lava pits, hoary retro warhorses all. Even the prologue, with its "Welcome to Corneria" interactions with the townsfolk, facilitates the nostalgic vibe.
The levels are finely designed, with few extraneous elements cluttering up the tightness of the puzzles. It's mostly just spikes, gravity, and ferrying tiny animals from one waypoint to the next, and I appreciate the elegance. I also appreciate the difficulty; the levels are thoughtful without ever being frustrating, so you will gladly play until the end. If you have an hour or so, finishing the game should not be a problem. This is good, because the game does not really have any sort of save mechanic. There are level codes, but they are only accessible when you lose all your lives, a strange choice.
Amil is an excellent example of the burgeoning genre of gravity platformers. Moreover, it offers the promise, however imperfectly realized, of a cool new world to explore. May we see more of Amil and his world in the future.