Critics are sometimes given a reputation for their occasional harshness. You might hear a critic accused of "wanting to hate something" or "looking for things to nitpick." While there are exceptions to every rule, it should be understood that most highly enjoy the medium they've chosen to review; as such, these complaints - in particular the idea that a reviewer might want to hate something - are largely unfounded. This reviewer always tries to play games with a good sense of empathy and excitement for the work of developers, yet wishing something to reach its potential doesn't make it so.
No amount of empathy and excitement can save a misguided project. For most gamers, the ultimate litmus test in determining a video game's worth is a simple question: was it any fun at all? In the unfortunate case of psyscrolr, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. What begins as a strikingly ambitious and beautiful project winds up a psychological endurance test: sloppy programming, inconsistent performance, and an overall lack of polish make this one difficult to recommend.
The potential of psyscrolr is evident the moment you look at the graphics: there is some fantastic pixelart on display here, managing to pull off a considerable amount of detail while remaining appealingly simple. The use of colour is great, as is the variety in the environments; though everything is put together using the same tiles and objects, you'll rarely feel like you're seeing the same thing twice across levels. The character animations are of particular note, flowing smoothly and mimicking real movement quite well considering their simplicity.
While not as impressive, the music and sound also do a great job of bringing atmosphere and personality to the game's world. A particularly nice touch is the voice acting for psyscrolr's cast, from the spunky Scrolr to the sinister Magi. All right, it may not win any awards, and the recording quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it's enthusiastic and effective enough to lend a significant degree of quirky charisma to the title.
Unfortunately, the extent of pyscrolr's charm ends abruptly with its presentation. Considering the level of passion that's visible in every facet of the aesthetic design, it's a crushing disappointment that the most important element - the gameplay - manages to be so downright unenjoyable. This game will test your patience in all the wrong ways, and one of the biggest problems rears its ugly head right from the beginning: the controls are uncomfortable and just don't work very well.
The Scrolr is controlled using the left stick to move and either the L or A button to jump. He's a magic user, though, and that's where the uncomfortable part comes in. In order to use his abilities, you make use of the GamePad's touch screen. In combat, for example, you can tap far away for long-range projectiles, and tap close for a magical blade attack. This is a creative idea, but it presents two major problems: firstly, manoeuvring a platforming character while using the touch screen in combat - something the game requires you to do frequently in boss battles - is uncomfortable and unintuitive. Secondly, the fact that you constantly need to know where you're tapping makes it pretty much pointless to look at the TV at all.
In defence of this choice, you might think the touch screen would help with the accuracy and precision of combat and puzzle-solving. Unfortunately, this simply isn't the case: psyscrolr is maddeningly unreliable when it comes to both touch and collision detection. Combat can be a nightmare just based on the controls alone, but then there's an early-game boss battle where damaging the lightning-fast enemy is a gamble even if contact is clearly made. Even in slow puzzle-solving sections, nothing is consistent: one sloppily executed dilemma requires you to knock a ball into a hole using moving platforms, but the ball's physics once rolling are embarrassingly, almost hilariously, erratic.
All of these problems, important as they are, are really symptoms of psyscrolr's biggest misfire: the game checks off several boxes on the List of Cardinal Sins in Game Design. Obtuse puzzles where little to no explanation or context is offered for the mechanics? Check. A completely unnecessary vehicular section with inexplicably bad controls and roadblocks to make sure you use that darn vehicle? Check. Long, unskippable cutscenes before difficult sections that must be watched again every time you lose? Check. Repetitive, ear-grating dialogue during boss battles? "HOMING FIREBALL!" Er, check. Again, it's a shame, because the game does have a lot of good ideas - but too many of them fall flat in execution simply because they're not fun.
We really wanted to like psyscrolr; it's a beautiful game with a lot of love put into its presentation and design. Unfortunately, it's impossible to recommend in its current state. Uncomfortable, imprecise controls, highly questionable collision detection, and sloppy programming all add up to a pretty miserable experience. Actos Games has plans to release DLC, but unless this content fixes some of the engine's core problems, all it's likely to do is add more frustration.