The Valley Rule
Ludum Dare is a competition that challenges developers to create games within days according to a specific theme that's open to interpretation, and with a theme like Beneath the Surface, Ludum Dare 29 has seen a lot of entries with wild variations and styles. Few, however, might be as lovely and intriguing as Ryan Carag and Bill Kiley's puzzle platform game The Valley Rule, which looks and plays something like the whimsical unique of Fez and the work of Nifflas. Using the [arrow] keys to move and [S] to jump, you control a tiny creature lost in a sprawling underground world who must find a way to unlock the massive door trapping you in. You can't do much but jump and push at the beginning, but as you go deeper, you'll find things that unlock new abilities to help you progress. If you fall into what is apparently a very dangerous sea of milk, you'll die, but you'll also instantly respawn at the last save point you activated, which looks like... what is that? Two floating high-heeled shoes and an existential Triscuit? Man, underground civilizations are weird.
It's the save points that wind up being annoying in The Valley Rule, typically because you can lose a lot of progress when you die thanks to how spread out they are, and that feels needlessly punishing in a game that's otherwise so beautiful and invitingly mysterious. Because it was made in such a short time, it sort of feels like it's just getting started when it ends. The puzzles mostly revolve around jumps and switches, and getting lost doesn't really factor into it, since if you hit an impassable obstacle, you simply know you have to go back the other way until you find an upgrade to let you past it. None of this is bad by any means, since The Valley Rule is a solid little challenge for its tiny development window, with responsive controls apart from some jumps that demand perfect timing. It just means it's a game that really makes you hope the developers revisit and expand on its potential, which The Valley Rule definitely has in droves. It's not just the style, it's the way an unwritten narrative seems to hang just out of view as you explore, and the way the end of the game makes it feel like you're just getting started on a bigger journey. As it stands, The Valley Rule is simple and short, but with more elaborate levels and puzzles, it could be a serious contender if it winds up being expanded upon.