Review: Chubbins (Wii U eShop)

Feelin' chubby

Developed by two-man studio Dahku Creations, Chubbins is a minimalist platformer all about jumping. So much jumping, in fact, that you're never not jumping. As an adorable, rotund rabbit named Chubbins, you must reach the end of each level simply by steering your automatic jumps through obstacles and out of the way of enemies, with left and right movement as the only controls to speak of. With a small scope and limited budget, Dahku has turned this simple concept into a meaty, insanely challenging experience.

Every platform you bounce on has a spinning arrow on it; the faster the arrow is spinning, the higher your jumps from that platform will be. Dahku uses this mechanic for all sorts of jumping puzzles where you're required to jump at exactly the right trajectory to reach the next platform without falling into the abyss below. Spiked balls and enemies populate most levels, but since Chubbins is killed by a single hit and he (or she?) has no form of defensive capabilities, Chubbins must simply find a way to jump past them. End bosses force you to fight them by jumping on objects that hurt them, but since Chubbins isn't designed for battle, these sequences are awkward and boring; luckily, bosses only appear sparingly throughout the game.

Avoiding enemies can get exceedingly difficult when many of them are also jumping, often at the exact same speed and height as Chubbins. It can be frustrating to figure out how to get past many of these jumping enemies, but levels are full of checkpoints and you have infinite lives, which makes it slightly more palatable. Dahku eventually introduces a "veggie" system, vegetables that Chubbins can eat and subsequently change colour – for example, carrots make him turn orange, and onions make him turn white. When Chubbins is in an altered colour state, he's a portly Moses crossing the Red Sea, as he can pass through obstacles of the same colour without getting injured.

There are two difficulties to choose from ("Soft" and "Hard"), but even on the easier setting this gets very difficult very quickly. Many levels require split-second jumps with exact timing to avoid instant doom, and there's no hand-holding to tell you what you're meant to do. It's a welcome challenge for old-school gamers, but despite the cute exterior this difficulty may turn off some younger players.

Chubbins is split into five worlds of seven levels each, with silly names like "Very Fine Hat" and "Fellas, Makin' Progress!" that add to the game's charm. There's no time limit, but you're encouraged to beat your personal record; you can speed run through individual levels in Time Attack mode, but in the core game your time is recorded across each entire world – this adds a larger scale to your quest for the best score. Rather than starting the timer over each time you die, meanwhile, your time is recorded across all lives, so your penalty for death is however much time you wasted. It's a unique timing system that would be interesting to see in more popular speedrunning platformers like Sonic.

You can play Chubbins on either the TV screen or the GamePad with a quick press of the Select button to switch between the two at any time. The colourful, workaday art style chooses function over form, with geometric shapes for backgrounds and little in the way of an immersive gameworld; the art and music are pleasing, if unremarkable. The aesthetic highlight is Chubbins himself, cute and cuddly while at the same time endearingly awkward, with an egg-like body shape and long ears that flop up and down with each bounce. There are a couple of delightful enemies like the suit-wearing badger with a bowler hat and the bird donning a fez, but they get a bit repetitive as you see the same jumping badger and patrolling bird from level to level.

Chubbins may be adorable, but his voice acting will haunt your dreams. Every time he dies, Chubbins emits a desperate wail of agony; it's a jarringly depressing sound for such an otherwise upbeat game. The audio quality is muffled, which only adds to the unsettling feeling that you're killing a cute bunny; you'll be dying a lot, so prepare to hear his gloomy death rattle on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Chubbins is a deceptively difficult old-school platformer that's all about managing your angles and learning to bounce at just the right moment. If you can look past its generic art style, you'll find cunning level design that takes advantage of the jumping mechanic the game revolves around in unique ways. The frustrating difficulty means you'll be replaying some sequences over and over, so be prepared for some repetition, but as a low budget small-studio effort this is impressive.