Balancing on a unicycle, joust in hand, riding forward on physical weight alone. That is the trick you are thrown into straight away with Balancelot. Two cups of frustrating, one cup satisfaction and one cup rage. It is a difficult game to like but it also isn’t quite as janky as you’d initially think it is on first glance.
Purposefully terrible platformers seem to be a growing fad. So hardcore it hurts, Balancelot was released on PC quite early on in the trend. It has only recently made it onto consoles though which is what triggered the review. Time has been kind to Balancelot though, mainly because of how many other janky games have got hardcore platforming so horribly wrong.
Your weight is shifted with the shoulder buttons and you can use your joust at times to prop you up – useful for jumps and steps. Why Balancelot is moderately sufferable is because your actions are sturdy and the outcomes are usually predictable. By that, I mean if you ram your weight one way, you’ll zoom the other and smack something. If you stay calm and try to feather touch things, Balancelot becomes far more playable and intricate. You just have to learn the art of patience. Whilst death will happen every few seconds and you’ll feel like the game is hugely unfair (and it is), in general its not because the controls are wildly inconsistent. It is a huge plus. I also found myself using the joust as a prop – or a second wheel of sorts. Sometimes you can use it as leverage outside of its use of pushing blocks about and it can make life easier. There is a small element of discovery, especially when you have to build your exit yourself out of boxes and blocks. Chaining up everything and escaping as it collapses behind you under your weight gives a real sense of achievement. It is just that achievement will last about another 15 seconds tops before you are flat on your arse again. Beware the confidence boost is all I am saying!
Where Balancelot could use an update is in enemy and obstacle respawning though. I had plenty of deaths where bridge parts didn’t respawn between lost checkpoint restarts. One enemy, the 7-legged lion that rolls at you, seems to defy all logic and chases you all level until you kill it. Then often another one appears. I died just as much from that on some levels rather than the traversal. I wouldn’t mind so much if it hadn’t taken me 15 minutes to get to the second checkpoint in the first place. These are reasons to be rageful at Balancelot and uninstall it with glee.
On a more positive note, I do really like the graphical style. Mixing a children’s play area and hand drawn circus art, it all comes together nicely. I was less of a fan of the later zombie expansion though. Here, it is all a bit dark and a pit can catch you out. Give me joyous colour and happy tunes if I’m going to die repeatedly!
Ultimately though, the main question here is – do you enjoy narcissistic games? Games that laugh at you as you fail against absurd odds? If so, this is one of the better games of this ilk to pick up. It doesn’t hold a candle to precision platformers like the much loved Super Meat Boy however. That is more skill than luck. Here, you need both. This is probably the most generous six I’ve ever given. I’d probably just finished a late level in the game and felt proud and relieved!
Whilst being cruel and often unfair, there is a method and trick to Balancelot which makes it not quite as rageful as a game that is a complete mess. It is still hard to like though.
Controls, whilst frustrating, are consistent.
A lot of respawning obstacle and enemy issues mean level restarts are common.
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