A key question often lobbed at reviewers is "did you completely finish the game?" We'll answer that one straight away here - no. The reason? Because we can't, but the fact we'll keep trying says much about why we're happy to recommend Electronic Super Joy to Wii U owners.
Originally developed by Michael Todd Games and ported here by Wii U veterans Broken Rules, this is an odd arrival as it's actually the predecessor to Electronic Super Joy: Groove City, which has already arrived in North America via a different publisher. As your humble writer is in Europe that Wii U iteration is a mystery, yet it is clear that the sequel is demonstrably shorter than this original, arguably making this the key franchise release on the system; it's also coming to both NA and EU, which is convenient.
In its most basic form Electronic Super Joy is an exceptionally challenging platformer, so as mentioned in our Groove City review fans of games like Super Meat Boy and 1001 Spikes should feel right at home. In the core game there are multiple worlds with 15 quickfire stages each, and you're looking at 50 or so levels. Beyond that there's the 'Micro-Hell' area with 10 incredibly difficult levels, and then the Infinite Love Mode in which you clear as many randomly chosen challenge rooms in a row as you possible can. That's a lot of content on offer and, importantly, it'll take all but the most brilliant of players a decent amount of time to even contemplate 100% completion.
On the surface this has the look of a very simple platformer. You run and jump, and depending on the stage have a secondary ability to double jump or - most commonly - perform an immediate stomp move. There's a lot of clever implementation and design here, though, such as auto-scrolling stages with such demanding time limitations that you have to stomp repeatedly to speed up jump landings. Each stage is tightly wound, with generous checkpoints to compensate for pixel-perfect requirements of the player. The mechanics may be spot on, but frequent and numerous deaths are an integral part of the experience.
The core campaign and Micro-Hell sections have storylines so bizarre, meanwhile, that their sole purpose is to raise a smile. As for the main storyline you appear to be trying to retrieve your butt from a wizard, with quirky little side-characters occasionally chatting to you along the way. In Micro-Hell you're trying to exact revenge on Micro-Satan for farting on your dog - it's not to be taken seriously, in other words.
The core presentation, however, is absolutely integral in helping this title to stand out above a number of other tough Indie platformers. Your character, enemies and platforms are almost always presented in silhouette, yet the backgrounds have a dramatic variety of animations and colour. It's visually arresting, and so busy that it's rather demanding on the eyes, to the point that this is a title we prefer to play in short bursts. The combination of gritty difficulty and its ability to overwhelm the senses make it both intoxicating and hard work; it's a tour de force of hyped up madness.
Beyond the exceptionally busy background animations there are moments of joyful design, whether it's transforming landscapes depending on triggers, flipping the axis of the stage or simply distorting and confusing the eyes as part of a visual trick. There are plenty of sudden and smart surprises to be found.
Of particular note, too, are bosses at the end of each world that play with the game's mechanics - and its various enemy and obstacle types - in interesting ways. We won't spoil any of the boss mechanics here, but they occasionally provide a fun diversion from standard running and jumping.
Also of note is that this Wii U version has been, in a sense, censored. The PC version features explicit moans and sexual references when hitting a checkpoint, for example, while that's been replaced with a standard sound here. Yet it's still a game - partly due to the difficulty - best suited to adults, as it's not shy of making jokes that are on the nose. If we say that the 'Pope' is a boss, you get an idea of its approach. This reviewer found various parts of the game funny, but some of a different political persuasion may be more sensitive to some of the references here.
That aside, though, we thought we'd save a particularly defining feature for late in this review - the music. The clue is in the name, but this is certainly some of the best electronic music we've heard in a game - it's not wannabe video game-style electronic music, but is legitimately high quality for its genre. You may hear a number of tracks multiple times, but put a pair of headphones on for this one; it's loud and brilliant.
It is worth noting that there can be occasional snags in this port. This reviewer had one occasion after lots of deaths in one area where the sound cut out, prompting the need to back out to the main menu and start the level again. Another member of the team has come across occasional (but not game breaking) slowdown - which this writer hasn't - which could be a problem with certain external hard drives. It's not a huge game, so is worth putting straight onto the Wii U system memory. We've also enjoyed playing directly on the GamePad screen the most (with headphones), though the Pro Controller is an option with the TV too.
Electronic Super Joy isn't a game for everyone, far from it. It's extremely difficult, prompting this reviewer to swear more than in recent memory and battle with the urge to fling the controller across the room in a rage. Yet it's brilliant and addictive, with a unique blend of visual trickery and clever design - along with a pumping soundtrack - to keep us coming back. There's plenty of content which should take most players a number of hours to clear, too, making it a relatively rare example of both quality and quantity on the eShop.
If you bemoan the lack of challenging platformers in the modern gaming scene, it's time to put your money where you're mouth is with this one - it'll make you work for your joy.