Steam Cleaning #15: Finding Xavier

Celeste is one of my top three games of all time. When I saw a devlog about making an ‘Excellent Platformer’ featuring an artstyle kinda like the one in Celeste, it was an instant click. I followed along in the video, enjoyed the analysis of what makes platformers tick, and proceeded to by the game in the video.

Finding Xavier, a game about searching for a cat. This game was made for a game jam with a theme of ‘Combinations,’ and it follows that theme by letting the player customize their moveset. Seems like a simple, somewhat novel concept for a platformer, and it allows for a metroidvania style game without enemies.

And unfortunately, it did not work for me.

First, the good stuff: I like the art style. I like the minimal plot concept. There’s something memorable about exploring new areas in a small game. The menu system where you equip abilities is adorable. I liked planting seeds in my little garden to grow new abilities. It was cute.

Now the bad: Despite everything said in the video, the game did not control all that well. Worse, its very concept fights against it.

Let me elaborate. The moving and jumping was quick and snappy. Maybe a little too quick and snappy, but I could work with it. The vertical speed was extremely quick at times, and I found myself running into obstacles I never would have run into in games like Celeste, Mario, and Hollow Knight. This also partly due to level design. I found many areas where I was jumping or wall jumping just a little too efficiently, gaining a little too much height, and then being punished for it. The levels were not designed precisely to fit the player movement, and that may have been partly because of the next problem. The main problem.

‘Combining’ platforming abilities is a bad idea.

It sounds good on paper. The concept allows for a lot of variety. What’s wrong with it? Well, in quick, snappy, difficult platforming games with precise movement, muscle memory matters a lot. The player should feel like an extension of your mind, following certain rules. Those rules can change a little bit, based on environmental cues and such. And in Finding Xavier, the rules constantly change.

Sometimes I can walljump, sometimes I cannot. Sometimes I have one or two midair jumps, sometimes zero. Sometimes I have multidirectional dashes. Sometimes I have only forward dashes. They use the same button. Sometimes I have neither. Sometimes I can float, or wall climb. Sometimes not. I gain then lose abilities, and combining them rewires my movement over and over. When I can jump three times then dash twice, but one of those dashes is different than the other, I’m having to plan out my movement. Then for the next obstacle I need float or walljump. Time to rewire that movement yet again. Oh, I failed? Better switch movement back again for the first segment.

This quickly becomes an exercise in frustration due to the lack of reliable movement and the iffy controls. I had a difficult time. Challenges I could have easily beaten in Celeste, I failed again and again with a similar moveset equipped. And some abilites work better than others. I said a prayer of thanks when I got past the wall-climbing challenge and then never equipped that one again.

As a jam game, Finding Xavier is short. That’s the only reason I completed it. It was an interesting concept, one that looks good on paper, but that doesn’t work for this type of game. I could see the concept working in a slower, floatier, easier game more meant for exploration than quick platforming.

Verdict: I beat the game but would have dropped it after an hour.

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