For centuries, the circle has left indelible marks on our culture: Wagner’s Ring cycle; Dante’s Inferno; Pythagoras’ Theorem; Domino’s Pizza. And now Kenny Sun’s Circa Infinity arrives on Switch to distract us from all of them – except maybe the pizza.
Fresh on console, this puzzle/action indie platformer hit PC in 2015, causing a stir with its unique concept and striking visuals. You control a little pixel person who runs around the outside of a screen-filling circle. There is a pie-slice segment of the circle that can be entered by standing on its arc and pressing jump. On entering the circle, your person flips to run around the inside of the circumference. Another small circle is floating around the middle of the one you entered, and can be reached by jumping when it’s in range. The screen then zooms so that this new circle fills your view and the process repeats. As you move through the game, new enemy types, behaviours and patterns are introduced; contact with any baddies results in failure.
The difficulty certainly ramps up, but what sets Circa Infinity apart from other 'good-idea' indie games is the level design, which does a perfect job of teaching the player the skills needed, then prompting some creative thinking with what has been learnt. The difficulty curve is as smooth as the circles are round, giving the feeling of a wise martial arts mentor who would be pleased to be beaten, but won’t let you win. Rather than granting a set number of lives and deducting them as punishment for failure, the game lets you try as many times as you like, but pushes you out one stage each time you die. This feels fair and requires a cool head – if frustration creeps in then it’s all too easy to chain together a run of deaths and find yourself back at the beginning of the level.
We can draw comparisons with all manner of games: the single-screen action, wrap-around play area and pixelated graphics recall golden-age arcade classics like Asteroids and Defender. The rhythmical trickiness feels sometimes like Super Hexagon and sometimes like VVVVVV. The colour coding of enemies as they flip between lethal and benign – along with the frantic reflex-action pattern-reading – feels like Ikaruga. Suffice it to say that Circa Infinity dishes out everything that could possibly be had from its simple formula, and does so with flair and a killer soundtrack.
While it translates well to Switch, the pixelated graphical style doesn’t quite read as deliberately on the handheld screen. On a larger OLED screen, this is particularly true. OLED players will also be very aware that the blacks are not quite black, and your screen will be lit up in grainy greys rather than sucking light into glossy darkness.
Circa infinity is a game where form follows function and function follows form. If the image of a bold circle on the screen was the chicken, then the mechanic of a wrap-around platformer was the egg. The constant trickery of its concentrated concentricity is confoundingly circular, but once you’ve bought into the premise, it makes perfect sense. Player-friendly level design and a well judged difficulty curve let the fluid intricacy and fiendish challenge shine, while its distinctive appearance will leave an indelible mark on your mind.