By William Shelton
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Dispersio is kind of like BDSM gone wrong: it’s demanding nature and punishing difficulty should get me all excited, but poor level design and some truly stupid decisions had me calling out “red” way too often. It took me 93 minuets to beat the game’s first level. Part of that was because of the Dispersio’s intended challenge and retro sensibilities. Part of it was novice level design that added unneeded frustration. And part of it was the fact that there is no in-game way to check the controls, forcing new players to quit out to the main menu to learn how to play and then forcing them to redo the opening level. Dispersio isn’t good, but it is an interesting kind of bad. Much like Volchaos I did find myself oddly compelled by the game, but the pay off to frustration ratio simply isn’t worth the effort most of the time.
The games story is that at some point in the future the Earth blows up, leaving behind only a few themed asteroids that hold treasures from the old earth. Why these asteroids also give the player character level-specific powers is never brought up. Frankly, once you get past the tutorial level (the one that took me over an hour to beat) the story isn’t ever brought up again. At least not in what I could be bothered to play through. It’s hard to have a real opinion about that fact though. On one hand I do really like post-earth/post-human sci-fi and would like to get some more of it. On the other hand, the story clearly wasn’t going to do much with the set-up, and from what we got it’s clear that any addition probably wouldn’t have been that great to begin with. While it was nice of the developer to quit while they were ahead, that doesn’t make up for a dull and uninteresting story.
But, I’ve always said that a bad story doesn’t necessarily make a bad game. Gameplay is king after all. So long as that’s good the game can still be worth your time. Unfortunately, Dispersio drops the ball here too. The game aspires to be a difficult retro-style platformer, which is normally right up my alley. I do get a certain, almost sexual, satisfaction from taming and mastering bratty…..I think I got off topic. I like a challenge, is what I’m saying. There’s just something magical about overcoming insurmountable odds. And to the games credit, at its best Dispersio comes close to giving me that fix. In the three levels I played to completion, the game only reached its best once. One room, just one single screen in three levels, did the game ever live up to its full potential.
Dispersio single biggest issue is the level design. While the game usually does do a good job communicating where the player needs to go and what needs to be avoided, the levels often make most of the challenge stem from compensating for the odd lay outs. Platforms are usually placed in such a way that jumping from one to another often ends with the character colliding with a third platform. Typically, this will send the character into another danger, killing them instantly and forcing them back to the last check point. So not only do you have to find the exact pixel to leap from so other platforms don’t interfere with your jumps, you then have to deal with the timing of gunshots or enemy patters in order not to make contact with them upon landing. That wouldn’t be so bad if the game played a bit faster, but the character moves at a more leisurely and plotting pace. It’s almost like Mario being placed in Super Meat Boy.
Not helping matters is the fact that the game only saves upon completing a level. And I don’t just mean saves game progress, I mean it doesn’t save anything until you beat the tutorial. If you reconfigure the controls and the game crashes on you, you have to reconfigure them again upon restarting the game. And would you like to know how I found that out? The dev told Cathy and me over Twitter because we were complaining that the game wasn’t saving. That’s right folks! Important information about the game is not told to you in the game. Lack of information is another real issue Dispersio has.
Like I said earlier, there’s no in-game way to check the controls. I had to quit out a few times to learn how to actually play the fucking thing, and had to start from the beginning again. The checkpoints don’t stand out enough upon first glance and can easily be missed. So if you go in trying to play it safe you can end up playing long sections repeatedly before the game forces you to hit one to teach you what they are.
Checkpoint placement is also frustrating. The dev clearly knows that adding checkpoints after a hard section is good to do, but they tend to be in the same screen as the challenge you just beat. So you regularly have to go through a part of the previous screen to get back to the area were you died. I know that doesn’t sound too bad, but in practice it felt like needless busywork between deaths. And other times they’re so close together it’s like the dev is overcompensating for that fact. In one of the easiest rooms of the game there are four check points. Two at the top and two at the bottom, one set literally being on the same platform.
I used the phrase “novice level design” in my opening, and I really do think that’s the best way to sum up Dispersio. Hell, the game is the only thing on the developer’s Steam page, so I’m pretty sure this is his first game. It is painfully subpar, but it shows that the developer has some creative energy. That energy needs to be refined and worked on, but it’s there. I’m sure as shit not going to give the game any points for that, It looks like crap, sounds even worse and plays like ass and proves once again that “user reviews” are completely useless with its “positive” sitting on Steam. Dispersio is a total failure, but it is an interesting one. It’s Tommy Wiseau in indie game form.