A title like 50 Pinch Barrage!! will not inherently conjure up a lot of confidence in most players. Candidly, this reviewer started with a sense of dread upon hearing it, visions of recent lackluster download titles dancing about in the brain. But you know what they say about books and covers and all that: one shouldn't judge on appearances alone, with Mobile & Game Studio's quirky little game standing as a perfect example. 50 Pinch Barrage!! is a treat, demonstrating addictively simple gameplay and above-average production values for a title of its ilk.
The game's titular "pinches" are more accurately described as a gauntlet of 50 platforming micro-challenges. You'll progress through each of these in a linear fashion, moving from left to right across the screen with no stage select or ability to backtrack (unless, of course, you'd like to start all over again). With that said, you won't have much motivation to backtrack in the first place — while some levels are easier than others, the scale seems to stay between pretty challenging and diabolically brutal. This can be a difficult game, and you will die many times on your way to the finish line — you've been warned.
50 Pinch Barrage!! has an appealing simplicity in its design that's evident from the moment you start playing. Most of the gimmicks in the levels will be familiar to platforming fans: swinging vines, moving platforms, and even minecarts a la Donkey Kong Country are all here and accounted for. Despite the familiarity of these elements, however, the level design constantly finds new ways to challenge you — often, you'll enter a level with a preconceived notion of how to tackle an obstacle, only to be met with failure. That's a refreshing change of pace during a period in gaming history when so many major titles seem to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks; this one knows what works well and uses it. There's also a deliberate pace by which new gimmicks are introduced, preventing the game from revealing its hand too early.
That's not to say that it's perfect — it can be really frustrating, especially since there's a definite element of trial-and-error to most of the levels. It could be argued that this is part of its charm, since there are no tutorials to guide you, but some vital information simply has to be discovered by experimentation — the fact that you can brake the minecarts being an excellent example. That's not the main problem, though; most of the irritating parts of the game come from levels front-loaded with tediously easy segments. In these stages, you'll find yourself getting along just fine, only to be killed right before the goal and have to start all over. This is particularly grating in sections where there's not much of a challenge at all, such as a level where one must climb two exceedingly long vines in order to reach the challenging portion.
One common complaint we've had with indie titles on Nintendo platforms has been the shoddy production values. Luckily, that isn't the case at all here: 50 Pinch Barrage!! has one of the most pleasingly simple aesthetics in recent memory. The graphics and design on display won't blow anyone out of the water, but they're cleanly presented and make it easy to understand what's going on. In addition, this title has some of the most detailed sound design we've heard in an indie title — there are perfectly-chosen sound effects for almost everything happening onscreen. As a small nitpick, the screams your character lets out upon dying do wear on the ears after a while. However, this is easily remedied in the options menu, where you can pick and choose which sound elements play — another nice little detail in an overall great presentation.
Don't judge the merits of 50 Pinch Barrage!! on its title alone — the run through this gauntlet of mini platforming challenges is thoroughly worth the tiny price of admission. Game design this smart and simple is just plain refreshing in a market saturated with so much overcomplicated nonsense. The presentation is also surprisingly good, with major points going to the detailed sound effects. Frustration will be a problem at times, especially for players with low patience, but this is a treat if enjoyed in short sessions.