The ability of game developers to capture and convey an idea with seemingly simple pixel art is totally admirable, and Jonathan Whiting has done just that with his newly released game Stalwart. This is a game that presents simply with pixel art and easy to master controls, but a closer look reveals its true side-scrolling, platform and challenging avoidance essence. And all with rhythm!
Controls for Stalwart are simple; use the [arrow] keys, or [WASD] for the left-handed, to sprint, halt, jump and execute some nifty ninja style maneuvers. The stalwart knight's ultimate goal is to get to the castle, but there are a myriad of hurdles to avoid along the way, like meteorites, crashing boulders and obstacles created by a hovering spacecraft. There are three levels of difficulty to choose from, with an in-game tutorial featured in the easiest level. The easy level is great for getting to know the controls and the awesome music you'll be playing along to. But for hardcore casual gamers, you can't go past the hardest of all levels. You've got one life and the full gamut of obstacles, which is possibly why Jonathan Whiting calls it the 'Hell' level.
Analysis: Stalwart is a game that appeals to many with its various difficulty levels; you can play as someone who likes the experience of interactive art and enjoy the pixel graphics and electronic music, or you can go for the adrenaline kick of playing the most challenging level. Gameplay is fairly simple, the controls are easy to master and the rhythmic appearance of obstacles in time to the music lends some predictability, but the game is not necessarily any easier for it. Which is a good thing. And while I would have liked to hear a different track for each difficulty level, the catchy and vibrant electronic pop sounds of Demoscene Time Machine are completely easy to listen to. At times I even found myself tapping the keys and maneuvering the knight in time to the music. What's also pretty cool is being able to choose a color-scheme for the screen (spectrum for me all the way!). For a totally retro look you can't go past the color scheme 'Handheld'.
You may remember Jonathan's previous release, Love Letter, which featured similar pixel art with the same suggestiveness of detail, and presented a challenge that at once frustrated us while compelling us to keep playing. You can expect more of the same in Stalwart, and even more with nicely varying levels of difficulty, smooth and simple gameplay, and great music. While there may be moments of arduous gameplay, there will also be sublime moments of satisfaction.
So if to be 'stalwart' is to be filled with resolve, courage and physical endurance, then it's fair to say that Jonathan Whiting's game may bring out the little stalwart knight in all of us.