A 2D platform-brawler with some room for improvement.
When I was 16 I spent I mostly spent my school year playing Dino Run in my IT class. Writing a short story was an act of fortune, but anything beyond a two-month assignment and I’d lose interest. Fast forward to 2018 and two young 16-year-old Jaipur locals with a passion for making games release Alter Army, an action-platformer they’ve been collaborating on for almost two years.
The result is a frenetic combat-based platformer where you follow one of four characters through a series of biomes on an alien planet filled with monsters and ancient enemies to slay.
Comparisons to existing platformers are hard to come by. The best I can liken it to is a mix between Risk of Rain aesthetics (minus the roguelike elements) with combat mechanics more frequently common in 3D action games. There are 6 stages in each world with a final boss for each, and after completing each world you can change to another character to try them out.
There isn’t a huge difference between the characters; they mostly control the same with different special abilities. Each character has a stamina bar for using quick special attacks, a larger more devastating attack, and a buff that increases your damage – plus, most importantly, health regeneration. Moving around in combat is fast thanks to a dash maneuver similar to the one in Ori and the Blind Forest.
Combat involves finding crystals in each level. Once you find a crystal you fight waves of increasingly difficult enemies to progress. The only shakeup of this formula are the boss battles, which don’t overstay their welcome even if they are occasionally tough. There were a few one-hit KO situations I found myself in that could be easily figured out if you take your time and master dodging and dashing.
The combat does feel satisfying once you get a handle on the controls, and part of the fun here comes from learning enemy patterns and executing your moves with greater speed. You’re rewarded for aggressive play; the more you attack the more stamina you get in return. You very rarely receive health pickups from enemies so you have to push hard to keep your regeneration.
There are attempts to squeeze in puzzles and exploration but the controls serve the combat, not navigation. The platforming controls are floaty and clunky – weirdly enough they work well in combat when coupled with attacks but as soon as you’re trying to navigate the world, it doesn’t feel smooth. This is ultimately to Alter Army’s detriment as exploring feels like a chore.
The movement is also occasionally buggy. I glitched through walls with the dash, and some enemies teleported out of the arena in combat forcing a restart. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of save points so not much progress is ever lost.
Despite this, there are still plenty of lore tidbits, kooky characters and gorgeous bits of art to find in each level, rewarding those who fiddle with the odd platforming enough. There are new secrets to be discovered after multiple playthroughs as well, but I don’t see much opportunity of replayability.
There’s a very loose story implied by lore fragments you find in the environment (similar to Dark Souls), surrounding human settlers on a strange planet struggling to survive. It’s more of a vessel for the gameplay than anything else and isn’t the main draw here.
The art style serves the gameplay well; everything pops visually and the animations are spot on. The sound design also serves the combat, with punchy effects giving everything weight in combat. The music is good but repetitive. By the time you’ve finished a world, you’ll be sick of hearing the same song in combat over and over again. The same quality doesn’t transfer to the platforming segments, as music will often disappear entirely and the only sound is a dull jumping effect.
I’m probably being overly critical, and it needs to be said that this is still a huge achievement for such young developers. I’d say pick it up if it looks even remotely interesting. You’re getting good value for the low asking price and supporting an up-and-coming developer.
If you can handle some inconsistencies in platforming design and execution of visual and sound effects, there’s some fun to be had here and a strange world to explore.