I Am The Manta Review: Spewer (Flash)

It’s ironic that a game whose primary mechanic is regurgitation should have so many ideas of its own, and whilst combining Kirby with one of the internet’s more infamous memes is not an initially appealing pitch, Spewer quickly endears itself. Casting you as the subject of an experiment, trapped in a series of laboratory rat runs under the intense scrutiny of the scientist who devised them, the game immediately recalls Portal. Whilst this comparison would scupper most games, Spewer does a remarkable job of holding its own thanks to a surfeit of ideas and charm that belie its diminutive Flash status.

Using the WASD + mouse control scheme ubiquitous in web games since Abuse, players attempt to reach each level’s exit in much the same way that a hen party might process homeward: vomiting. It is soon apparent, however, that uncontrolled excess will impede your progress, and only careful resource management (together with some pin point platforming) will help you solve each meticulously constructed puzzle. The multifarious uses of your projectile stomach contents are impressive and, coupled with the tactility of the liquid physics, a pleasure to explore: spike filled gaps can be swum across; walls climbed; switches pushed and inadequate jumps turned into huge leaps. Once emptied, holding the space bar nearby will allow you to drink all or some of your bile for redeployment elsewhere, and a variety of pills augment your armoury to include tar, acid and cloud vomit. It’s not quite Fludd, but it certainly makes a splash.

The pacing of the game is mostly brilliant, with new ideas arriving often, and no shortage of unique ways to put them into practice over the 50 main, and 8 bonus levels; traversing these levels with as little vomit as possible is also a compelling reason to return.  It is a shame then, that the controls do not quite match the ambition of the platforming, and you will often feel cheated of victory rather than fairly defeated: poised near the exit of a difficult level only to have to restart because some acid has remained on a platform that it should have washed over. There is also a huge difficulty spike in the penultimate level that will prevent many from seeing the short, but worthwhile completion animation. A greater shame though, is that the final level is the only one to permit the use of all the pills and, despite keeping them linearly separated, hints at the potential a less restrictive prescription could have delivered.

This frustration is somewhat diminished by the natural charm of the game’s protagonist, on whom it is obvious a great deal of attention has been lavished. Equal parts cute and creepy, he telegraphs every hardship: from squinting when submerged – tiny bubbles emanating from a determined mouth – to deforming on impact after a long fall. If only the environments were equally as distracting; instead, every level is filled with various shades of grey and, whilst the looping animation of a full sized scientist peering in on you goes someway to spicing up the background, by the end you long for more colourful worlds to explore. The looping music, on the other hand, will soon have you reaching for mute.

Despite these flaws, the desire to see the next imaginative conundrum is compelling, and the game delights in confounding the player’s expectations of throw-away immaturity with a surprisingly deep, and very grown up challenge.

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