Indie retro platformers are a dime a dozen in 2017. Since the success of Super Meat Boy in 2010, the independent scene has become cluttered with also-ran, ultra-challenging, quirky platformers of the 8-bit variety. As an ultra-challenging, quirky platformer of the 8-bit variety, Slime-San, from developer Fabraz and publisher Headup Games, will likely fall squarely into that also-ran category, to no fault of its own.
Slime-San’s titular protagonist finds himself trapped inside a worm. The reasons are unknown, but probably have something to do with the fact that it’s… ya know, a slime. Inside the worm, an entire community of slimes has developed, with NPC’s offering up quirky flavor text and gameplay modifications. Everyone seems to have resigned themselves to their fate, eternally trapped inside this volatile invertebrate, but not Slime-San. He’s going to get out, and he’s going to free everyone else in the process. Slime-San’s amusing story, but silly story made me laugh more than a handful of times.
Slime-San is a fine example of what has made the platformer genre so enduring even three decades after Mario first bounced off a goomba’s head. The platforming presents an intense dance of thumbs and reflexes as each level tests your ability to flip back and forth between the numerous pitfalls and traps in each stage. Those obstacles range from enemies that chase you around the level, to lasers that rise and fall in tandem, to an ever-present red slime that acts as a timer lending some more tension to each stage. The environments inside the giant worm in which Slime-San is trapped, mainly consist of green and red surfaces. You can bounce and climb up green surfaces, while red surfaces will kill your gungy, little protagonist. You can slow time to pass through green surfaces or perform a quick forward dash to more easily maneuver through the game’s many obstacles. These abilities are key to Slime-San’s mobility, which feels tight and joyful, always keeping you on your toes without becoming too frustrating. This is greatly aided by the game’s generous checkpoint system. Death in Slime-San serves as a lesson in how to avoid it on the next run through a level, rather than a frustrating penalty.
That’s not to say Slime-San avoids frustration altogether. As the game progresses, new concepts and obstacles are introduced at a steady drip. While some effectively enhance the challenge, others detract from what Slime-San does well. There are a number of puzzle levels that, when combined with the game’s already perplexing platforming sequences, serve to slow things down and create a repetitive loop that often tested my patience to its breaking point. In addition, underwater levels show up more often that they should, which is to say they should’ve been nixed completely. The underwater stages simply don’t play to Slime-San’s strengths, slowing Slime-San’s movement speed to a crawl and evoking the feeling of swimming through a bowl of Jell-O rather than zipping around tightly designed corridors. At times like this, Slime-San’s creativity undermines its tight, smooth game design.
Slime-San’s best moments are challenges that require unimpeachable control, precise timing, and speed. Slime-San is designed for forward momentum, and each one-screen stage lays out where you need to go right from the beginning, so all you need to do is figure out how to get there and the quickest route to take. Boss fights break up the challenges nicely, allowing you to experiment with different techniques to take down each beast. These fights test your skills to the max, but they’re also a lot of fun. I only wish there were more of them.
My biggest issue with Slime-San relates directly to the platform I played it on. The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers were not designed well for someone with large hands, and playing Slime-San exasperates that problem. The game demands precise timing and thumb-work, but the Joy-Cons can’t accommodate that for someone like myself. Whereas I find that minimalist, chill games like Death Squared seem perfectly suited to the Switch, games like Slime-San and, similarly, Super Meat Boy (which also recently released on Switch) are hindered by the console’s standard input controllers. I have never wished I had a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller more than after some of the more harrowing sections of Slime-San. The lack of a real d-pad and the close proximity of the face buttons and the shoulder buttons on the Joy-Cons force my hands into a claw position that aches for about ten minutes afterwards.
Listen, I know that not everyone will have this problem. Maybe I’m just old, or maybe I just have big hands, or god forbid, maybe I’m developing carpal tunnel or early stage arthritis, but playing Slime-San on Switch made me feel like my hands were falling apart. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of game that can ensnare you for hours on end as you try “just one more level” over and over until your thumbs go numb.
Slime-San isn’t perfect, but it is charming, and provides a challenging good time for any fan of the genre. I’m glad it released on Switch, so that it’s now on all of the major platforms; PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam. It’s the kind of game that fits nicely on Switch (provided you have a pro controller, or the joy-cons fit your hands perfectly), and especially benefits from the new Nintendo system’s less-congested marketplace. It’s a great game, but it doesn’t stand out from the pack of indie platformers on offer. Heck, it’s not even the most recognizable slime-themed game this year. While never quite reaching the heights of some of its predecessors, Slime-San makes for an enjoyable, but imperfect little platforming adventure.