by Joe Matar0
Have you ever wanted to be better educated on the history of typography? “Hell no,” you say? “Who cares where fonts come from?” says you? Well, while those are valid arguments, the fact remains that… uh… Actually, I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence. Anyway, Type:Rider is a cinematic 2D platformer that looks great, sounds great, controls horribly, and does an awful job trying to teach you about the paint-drying-boring history of typography.
In Type:Rider—the title of which sounds like a placeholder pun that the developers never bothered to improve on—you play a colon, as in the “:” and not the body kind (though, fittingly, it controls like crap). The colon must brave levels themed around different fonts, e.g., “Gothic,” “Times, and “Helvetica.” They’re all littered with gigantic letters for you to roll and jump over and bump against with attractive environments reflecting the era in which each typeface was conceived. The “Clarendon” level has a western vibe with tumbleweeds to circumvent and mine carts to ride. “Futura” has a lot of primary colors, sharp angles, and blocks.
The sound effects and music adapt to each level accordingly. Harmonicas echo through the “Clarendon” level while “Times,” which is full of conveyor belts and various other machinery, is dominated by pounding tempos and industrial-revolution-style ka-chunk noises. Bitcrushed, digitized beats accompany the “Pixel” level and an old-school video game “boing” sound is added in each time you jump. There’s an impressive breadth to the styles of music and each track fits its level well, though most still fall on the side of being quite somber and haunting and one wonders the purpose of going for such an aesthetic in a title focused on the decidedly nondramatic concept of arranging letters in such a way as to make them look nice. Still, it adds to Type:Rider’s detailed presentation.
It’s too bad playing the game isn’t actually any fun. In each level, the primary goal is getting your colon from left to right. More challenge comes from grabbing all the collectibles, 26 floating bubbles containing letters encompassing the entire alphabet. Furthermore, there’s always one (hard to find) ampersand and six asterisks. Each level is divided into four sections and two of these are always focused on liberating a white ball you need to unlock an exit. Getting the white ball usually requires completing a puzzle or minigame of sorts, like raising the water level in a room so the ball can float to freedom or playing the most unexciting rendition of Breakout ever programmed.
The absence of fun is a twofold problem. The first issue is that the game controls terribly. Touching the right side of the screen moves right; left side moves left. Touch both at once and you jump. You can also wall jump in this manner. But your colon is too floaty and imprecise and the wall jump is iffy at best. You never get the sense that you’re mastering these controls, so much as tapping away madly until you accidentally bounce the right way. Sometimes you seem to be able to jump in midair, other times not. Sometimes holding determinedly to the right will get you over a bump in the ground, but not always.
The other problem is that, though the environments are lovely to look at, navigating terrain made up almost entirely of wayward letters does not a smooth ride make. You’ll spend most of your time getting stuck in things, like the crook of a giant lowercase ‘e’ or the nook of an upside-down ‘K.’ Checkpoints are plentiful and lives are bottomless, but it still just isn’t fun to grapple with these levels over and over again.
Type:Rider can also be graphically buggy. It sports impressive lighting effects and animation, but these made my device chug. Options to lower the detail level are included, but choosing anything but the best quality resulted in black squares blinking in and out or occasionally replacing objects altogether, which could make it difficult to process what I was even looking at.
Finally, the education angle is an utter failure. Grabbing asterisks unlocks lengthy pages of typography history. Reading these is entirely optional, but they’re still included as though they’re a worthwhile feature. But this is just like talking to settlers in The Oregon Trail. Who the hell is going to take time out to listen to some virtual jackanape yammer about pioneer times when there are buffalo to shoot? If Type:Rider professes to being educational, it should do a better job of weaving its scholastic bits into its gameplay.
Type:Rider is supposed to teach you everything you never wanted to know about typography, but that’s only if you’re willing to scroll through pages of text, which Wikipedia lets you do for free. Really, this is a cinematic 2D platformer based on landing precision jumps with irritatingly imprecise controls. The beautiful environments are packed with setpieces better in concept than execution and you’ll find yourself furiously flailing your colon across unforgiving, yet striking landscapes. All in all, Type:Rider is the best video game about typography I’ve ever played. In other words, it’s not good.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Looks and sounds really very beautiful, but the controls and level design create frustration rather than challenge. Also, I shall never forgive the developers for trying to educate me on the subject of typography.