Playing RAM BOE

Playing RAM BOE

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‘His soul broke free from the cage and wandered off in search of his former body. After a while, his search proved in vain and the only haven he found was a lost Ram grazing on a piece of grass under the melted snow. Taking refuge in the being, Boe quickly realised that he wasn’t the only one there. All around him were ice prisons; Adventurers, children, lost animals with souls weaker than his own that needed his help to be free once more — a task that soon became Boe’s duty. And so our adventure begins, Boe becoming Ram Boe in his quest to be the mountain hero.’

ss_12fe8055e7455051ed1903ddec6de0274033e4a5.1920x1080RAM BOE’s premise is one that has been articulated plenty of times in a multitude of wordplay variations amid the Community’s member base herein; advertised as an indie casual puzzle by developers PointFive Team and now available both on Steam & the Google Play Store, RAM BOE follows the tale of one adventurer Beauregard Pete deep within the fictitious mountains of Helvegen. In constant search of adrenaline, Pete’s rock climbing exploits lead him to ‘bigger game’ at the top of the mountains where as one would expect, things go horribly wrong.

Confronted and defeated by the Ice Jotun, a giant based in Norse mythology, called Thrym, Pete’s soul is condemned to eternal entrapment with the beast’s many ice prisons. Strong as his soul is regarded to be however, the adventurer soon manages to free his spirit which he then enforces upon a passing Ram — setting into motion a quest to free similar souls who have fallen victim to the monster over the years. Strangely though, the introductory cut-scene is only the second-to-last time one hears about the Jotun, Pete or the remainder of the plot.

The reason for this sadly being that there exists no plot or narrative whatsoever. Inspired in game play by the retro puzzle Sokoban, a basic yet challenging mind bender that tasked players with moving crates to predetermined spots within a warehouse back in the 1980’s, RAM BOE has players moving blocks/ice prisons on a platform floating high up in the Mountains into a singular spot known as the mystical ‘Well of Revival’. This not only serves to usher Beauregard to the next level of gameplay, but also leads players to believe that it helps release the souls confined to those blocks.

Through each of the 40 levels on offer, the layout of the iced platform cleverly changes along with the number, arrangement and positions of the blocks. Each block is identified by a minimally designed pattern of a specific color, with blocks of the same coloured patterns unitable into one.  Once only a single block exists for each pattern, these individual blocks need to be moved into the Well while navigating around missing tiles and edges of the platform — that cause the player to fail the level should Boe or a patterned cube fall into the abyss below — along with useless ‘Broken’ blocks that can be thrown over to clear the way.

Players do this against a myriad of clever block arrangements, a reasonable timer and the occasional randomizing bolt of lightning that drops random cubes on the platform as the timer runs — summoning players to work faster in the process. Make a move that could potentially be irreversible and the game warns you against it, providing even the option to undo a limited number of moves as one goes along.

It’s safe to say, that it is in its puzzles where the game eloquently shines. The lack of a definite difficulty graph allows for strings of difficult levels to be interspersed with easier ones and vice versa, which in turn makes for very entertaining-cum-challenging puzzle solving; the arduousness of puzzles of course, being subjective to a player’s proficiency with puzzles to begin with. The timer adjusts itself with regards to the complexity of the level and time allotted never feels too little or too much.

Screenshot_2016-04-02-19-21-01On the Android version of the game, Boe is navigated on the battlefield via on-screen buttons; A single tap on the directional arrows is meant to move the adventurer turned bighorn a single step in either direction. This rudimentary character navigation however did not sit well with me; each on-screen arrow on the mobile screen does’t exactly correspond to a direction relative to the Ram’s position, but rather to a direction relative to that of the camera.

For instance, tapping left doesn’t move Beauregard to his immediate left but to what is the camera’s left instead. As a result, the ability to move this camera around a full 360 degrees to attain a better view over level obstacles made for some rather annoying instances wherein I’d tap right expecting the Ram to turn to his right — only to have him turn in a completely different direction and fall from the platform altogether. Not exactly a welcome scenario at the final few of a mind-boggling 20 minute level.

Thankfully, the issue is less prominent in the PC version — which is  a lot more comfortable and lot less frustrating to play on — particularly because one doesn’t need to move the camera around all that much thanks to a wider field of view. On checking with the team if the issue had been brought up before, I was told that although majority of the beta-testers attested to having no issue, there were a minor few who did find the controls uncomfortable on mobile devices.

Either way, it was particularly joyous to witness the game cast the illusion of me winning over it when I seemed to breeze through 4-5 levels with relative ease, before it would hurl at me a stage so challenging that I’d spend nearly half an hour scratching my head amid the constantly ticking clock, an abnormal number of ‘Broken’ blocks that I had to first figure how to get rid of and my favourite bolt of lightning that constantly added to my plate as the timer ran. That being said, the joy that I drew from passing an enormously challenging level was celebrated only by myself. as the game provided no reward or indication of where I was truly headed by combating each puzzle.

This was of course, the absence of the RAM BOE’S promised narrative coming into play. While the introductory cut-scene might have one believe that their puzzle solving eventually builds up to a major plot point, transpiration of narrative events or the like — there happens to be no such thing. The only cut scene that does crop up after the introduction is after level 20, which merely serves to announce that levels 21-40 are to take place at Night in-game, and that the Spirits rescued by Boe are to light the way therefrom. Disappointingly there’s no return, conclusion or mention of the plot even after coursing through all of the game’s 40 levels.

As discussed with the team after my play-through of the game, RAM BOE unfortunately lacks any sense of player motivation or direction. Besides an urge to challenge one’s immediate mental capacity via a few smart puzzles, there seemed to be no apparent reason to return to the game or even see it through. I’d have liked for the plot to unravel itself or even progress in the most basic of fashions after each set of 10 levels via cutscenes, that would at least have lent purpose to my advancement through the game.

Screenshot_2016-03-21-11-11-44This absence of direction is further accentuated by RAM BOE not wanting to explain fundamental aspects of its game play, causing me to doubt their significance; Points are accumulated for each block pushed into the Well and deducted at the end of a round for any retries, while beating a level by a certain margin on the timer grants one a bonus or so it is assumed.

However, how large this margin must be to attain a bonus, where this bonus is added or whether it even is a bonus are questions left unanswered even by the game’s first few stages, that educate new users on RAM BOE’s basic puzzle solving concept alone. Thankfully there exists leader boards and achievements for both the Steam and Android version of the game, providing perspective on player progress and laurels so far.

Artistically though, RAM BOE does a lot more right; smooth gameplay, sunlight, snowfall, the vivid use of colors and casually designed foliage are but some of its visuals that draw players in right from its Main Menu that features clouds retreating to make way for the sun, to stages of night game play. Each icy blue platformed level stands populated with tiny mushrooms, half-cut tree stumps, snow boulders and pillars of fire for the night stages, that remain consistently sharp and attractive even while pinch-zooming in on a mobile device.

Also noteworthy is the symbolic blooming of lush foliage every time a block is successfully dropped within a well, as if poetically symbolising a spirit’s newfound freedom, and the minimal artwork used in the two cut-scenes as well; all of which undoubtedly make for a very pretty experience throughout.

Which alone is a testimony of why it would have been worthwhile to have the Art team employ greater effort in showing off more of their artistic prowess than what was on display. While all of the above visual elements held their appeal, the game’s scenery and landscape of plastic mountains, the lake that fills their centre and wooden houses along its banks stays constant through all of its 40 levels. This hence, contributes to an absolute lack of visual variety which is further accentuated by RAM BOE’s OST of only a small handful of Kevin MacLeod composed tracks.

As a casual, pick-up-and-play puzzle game that one would like to have focus on the puzzles on offer and puzzles alone then, RAM BOE performs fairly well. Its soothing use of icy colors, an overall feeling of repose, fantastic assortment of challenges that stem from its unpatterned placement of puzzles and the inherent pride that comes from overcoming them, all arrive together to conjure a rather enjoyable casual conundrum.

However at the same time, its often overwhelming sense of repetition and monotony, useless plot, inconsistency in controls and a lack of player motivation leaves it lacking in terms of a complete gaming experience while also undermining the team’s apparent potential. Much of this arises from the fact that the only major additions made to the original game’s 2015 Indie Game Making Contest Build of 20 levels — for which it was originally conceived — was its stagnant scenery and 20 additional levels, which leads one to ponder upon RAM BOE’s potential had more time, energy and creativity been dedicated to its final build.

Screenshot_2016-03-21-13-49-32Ponderings which haven’t fallen on deaf ears, for with an iOS release still on the agenda, PointFive has indeed taken a large portion of the afore stated flaws into consideration alluding that several, if not all of its lacking aspects will be amended over time via progressive updates. ‘That’s a definite yes’, states PointFive’s storyteller and PR in-charge Jane Arvine. ‘We wouldn’t want RAM BOE to stay incomplete this way. Updates on at least some of the aspects will come i.e the plot and visual variety; it’s only a matter of time before it happens.’

 

The above article serves to provide Community members PointFive team with constructive feedback towards the overall improvement of RAM BOE, while also illustrating to other Community residents the game’s functioning and nuances. To follow up the game’s journey while also learning more of its inception and Steam release, visit its Higher Eclectic Space.

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Creator, writer & sole employee, Braganza is practically a full-time resident of Higher Eclectic Ground.

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