I’ve had a (sideways) eye on Youropa ever since I first heard about it; the gravity-defying puzzles and the unique way the world was built has been intruiging not only to myself, but to everyone I’ve shown the game to.
Story & Gameplay
There isn’t much of a story in Youropa, but then again we could say the same about most Super Mario games. In those it’s “save the princess”, here it can be distilled as “restore the power”. You play as a “You”, a being with the unique ability to stick to most surfaces because he has suction cups for feet. The game starts with your character hanging upside down from a rope and after freeing him you get to freely design its look with a spraycan. The new paintjob’s not only there to make you look dashing, it also doubles as your health. Each time you fall or get hurt, you’ll lose a bit of paint.
At first, you only have the wall-running ability at your disposal and you’re limited only to surfaces that have some kind of incline. Eventually you’ll get other powers to help you progress through the levels and solve puzzles, but you’d be suprised by how long it takes to learn how to jump.
Later, you’ll learn how to grab items and after you’ll learn how to kick (and combining these two will be key to a lot of puzzles) but it’s also a means of self-defense against the game’s rare enemies (you won’t face any opposition in most levels though). More abilities will gradually keep unlocking and each time you power up, new areas will become available, almost all of them with a power line running towards the central Eiffel tower location. If you’re ever lost and don’t know where to go next, simply follow the powerline that isn’t lit up yet and there’ll be a puzzle to solve at the end of it.
At any point in the game you can zoom out and rotate around the level. This not only gives you a better idea of where to go next (and how to get there) but is also essential in some areas to find a pattern that you need to reproduce on some tiles. I found this a nice gimmick because the patterns weren’t always as identifiable as in the image above and finding them can get you that nice “ah-ha!” sensation that makes you feel clever for a bit. Sadly this type of puzzle isn’t that frequent in the game, but that proud sense of achievement is ever present.
I often felt as if I’d found a surface to walk on that the developer didn’t intend me to traverse yet, only to find out moments later that this was indeed where I needed to be to move the game along. Clearly a lot of though went into the level designs and what’s even more impressive is that these were all made with the level-builder you can use yourself to make new playable experiences. I lacked the patience and creativity to make any of my own, but this could be an inclusion that extends the game’s lifespan significantly if you’re into it.
To keep you on your toes throughout the different areas, you’ll also be able to pick up 130 collectible casettes and find 10 locations to spray graffiti. Don’t feel bad if you spot a few that are beyond your reach at the moment, it’s likely that you’ll have to go back later when you’ve acquired new platforming powers.
While I wouldn’t technically call it combat, you do have to face off against some hulking enemies a few times and there are also encounters with dog-like creatures. I admit that I felt bad about using their “corpses” as weights for triggers though. But it’s what the game required me to do to move on. I swear!
At the end of the video above you’ll noticed that I accidentally resetted the level by pressing the ‘Select/View’ button. In my mind this button is usually the one that opens the world’s map so I press it without thinking too much. Luckily, by the time you play the game this will already be remapped so you don’t have to utter the same-cursewords. It’s great when a developer listens to user feedback! (You can send me thanks in the form of your firstborn child, or if that’s too steap, a Twitter-follow will do)
Speaking of the map, it can be opened at any time and be used to quick-travel to one of the locations you’ve already visited. You can also use it to remind you where you need to go next or to identify where the missing collectibles are.
The game is ever evolving and will never feel stale. There’s nary a level that doesn’t offer some new kind of gameplay for you to toy with. At rare occasions you’ll even get a vehicle to control like a pogo-stick, moped or a car. New hazards are also introduced, like streams of water which will One-hit KO you or rain which will gradually wash away your paint/health.
While the game was enjoyable throughout, there were some technical issues that threatened to cloudy the skies: When you fall into oblivion, the game tries to respawn you somewhere around your “point-of-oops!” but sadly this doesn’t take gravity into account and at times I just kept respawning into a deep-dive and eventually getting a Game Over. (EDIT: I’ve been told this is now fixed!) Likewise, many of the puzzles count on the physics engine to do what it’s supposed to do but in corner cases you’ll kick a ball too far to the left or a box will not drop cleanly unto a button.
Graphics and Audio
The way each area looks is something to behold, it really requires the zoom-out at times to appreciate the M.C. Escher level of thought that went into them. I could also really appreciate how you see the nearby areas floating in the distance, which helps tremendously with keeping mental track of where you are in the grand scheme of things.
Below you, you can also see the city of Paris while you’re floating miles above it and the cloudy skybox helps set a mostly ‘upbeat’ tone. The music tries to help in this regard but I feel Youropa is missing some catchy tunes and the sound never really takes the forefront. There are even a few ones that downright annoyed me like the track that plays when an enemy spots you and gives chase. There are some cool scratchy tunes when you pick up a casette or spray some graffiti though and I’d hoped to see a bigger ‘skate/punk’ vibe in the rest of the soundtrack.
While I’m spraying my thoughts on the wall-coverings, perhaps it’s a good moment to highlight how well thought out the placement of these markings are. Without ever expressing a word of explanation other than “Press RT to grab” the various drawings explain you which ability to use when or how enemies are also weak to the same rain that could hurt you.
Youropa turns the world of puzzle-platformers upside down and will make you tilt your head sideways in awe throughout the experience. This is a game that’ll suck you right in until you’ve beaten it and for completionists there are plenty of collectibles spread about the levels that you can go back to collect. Added to this is a level-builder tool to make your own mind-bending puzzles if you feel up to the task. I had a great time with the game and wished it would’ve lasted longer, so I look forward to testing out other players’ designs!