In the world of platformers, the name of the game is control. That is to say, nothing speaks to a platform game's quality quite like the level of control the player feels they have over their character. Of course, control alone does not guarantee a successful product — creative level design that makes intuitive use of the mechanics is really what sells a platformer in the end. Unfortunately, you'll find neither reliable control nor creative level design in Prison Lab's Xavier. It flubs the most basic elements that Shigeru Miyamoto and his team perfected nearly thirty years ago in Super Mario Bros., and what begins as a downright unpleasant experience ends up as a psychological endurance test — the repetitive graphics, uninspired audio presentation, incompetent controls and poor level design will really test your ability to keep the game on for a sustained period.

It's that basic element of control that will really ruin your time right from the get-go. The title character, a caveman named Xavier, reacts sluggishly to your button inputs for anything from the basic jump to his hammer attack. This latter problem is largely due to the length of the animation — tap Y, and there's an excessive delay before the attack will even connect with an enemy. This leads to a lot of cheap deaths, especially when precise platforming is combined with enemies and projectiles; even if you, the player, react in time, it will take too long for the action on screen to respond.

Unfortunately, these control problems are exacerbated by the atrocious level design. Each stage has four goals to complete, although only the most basic of these — that of getting to the stage's end — is required. The others are all marred by significant problems. For example, the first of the optional objectives involves collecting every coin in a given stage. However, this is almost never a problem due to the fact that the path of coins directly follows the linear path to the goal at the end; this renders the coins' existence meaningless, as you never have to go off the beaten path to grab them — you'll most likely always get this objective completed just by finishing the first. The second optional objective, collecting all three of each level's crystals, does require you to explore areas that stray from the linear left-to-right progression, but these are so telegraphed and obvious that there's never a sense of satisfaction when you take them. That, and some of the crystals require you to play lazily implemented and painfully boring minigames to unlock them, which slows level progression to a crawl.

The third and final optional objective is of special note, because it serves as an excellent illustration of how the aforementioned control problems and bad level design can be made even more frustrating. Said objective simply requires you to complete the stage under a time limit — which would be fine, were it not for the fact that these time limits leave absolutely no room for error. Though Xavier has three units of health before he kicks the bucket and requires a total retry of the level, though getting hit at all sends you back to the last checkpoint you touched. These checkpoints are so far apart that it's quite easy to be caught off-guard by an enemy and end up losing a full third of the progress you made. Worse yet, the trek back to the place where you were injured is agonizingly dull thanks to Xavier's molasses-esque pace and the fact that you'll have already cleared out all the collectible coins and enemies by that point. In other words, if you plan on checking off the time limit objective, you absolutely cannot fall or get hit by an enemy, a task made nearly impossible thanks to an unhelpful camera and the downright sluggish controls.

Xavier's presentation doesn't fare much better than the gameplay. Most glaringly you'll be listening to the same music and looking at the same generic backdrops for what seems like an eternity: though you will eventually encounter new worlds, the amount of levels required to do so — as well as the agonizing nature of the gameplay itself — will ensure a gruelling time on your way to new sights and sounds. While these repeated sounds and set pieces aren't particularly offensive on their own, the lack of aesthetic variety in each individual world (you'll go through ten long levels at a time with the same music and graphics) only serves to intensify the maddening frustration you'll be experiencing elsewhere. That, and it must be said that the design for the title character is entirely unattractive; there's also particularly poor art when the game loads.


Xavier is an example of how not to make a platform game in this (or any) era. Sluggish controls are enough to ruin the experience on their own, but add in some truly uninspired level design and a disappointing lack of aesthetic charm and you've got a game that's dull and frustrating. Steer far clear of this one; there's absolutely no reason to drop money on a game that fails to get even the most basic elements right — elements that were perfected three decades ago on far lesser technology.