It's been a while since I played a platformer with a twist. You know the kind of games I mean? Indie sidescrollers that take the classic formula and then do something inventive with time manipulation or gravity or, in the case of Fez, rotating the viewpoint in a more literal interpretation of the word 'twist'.
That subgenre used to be the bread and butter of indie games, but these days it feels like Metroidvania-style games and action platformers have taken over from them. Celeste (opens in new tab), Iconoclasts (opens in new tab), and Dandara (opens in new tab) feel like they're on a separate continuum from Fez. Octahedron, on the other hand, seems like a deliberate dodge of the current trend. For starters, rather than being cute and wispy it's eye-bogglingly bright and full of breaking-glass sound effects and electronic beats. (The creator, Marco Guardia, used to be half of a trance duo called Flutclicht and contributes some of his own tunes, while Chipzel, who did the Super Hexagon soundtrack, adds others.)
The wordless opening sees you being sucked into the underworld of Veetragoul, abducted from a pleasant pastoral scene into an underground disco wonderland where your head is replaced by geometry—an octahedron, of course. The octahedron seems to be responsible for the your ability to summon a limited number of temporary platforms beneath your feet by pressing X. You can also hold X and push a direction to surf those platforms left and right, though never up. That would make it too easy, because your aim is always to get to the top, ascending out of Veetragoul one level at a time.
Because the levels are vertical, sometimes a screw-up can send you plummeting to an earlier section, or even all the way back to the start of the level like you're in Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. (Fun fact: Getting Over It is popular with streamers in China, and apparently when somebody tumbles back to the bottom of the mountain there the chat responds by shouting, "Welcome home!")
Some platforms have colored lightbulbs dangling from them which can be smashed by summoning a platform in the space they occupy, freeing the colored lights within to float upwards. Then they grow like flowers out of the platform they previously dangled from and can be harvested for points. There are dangers as well, slow spiders that circle blocks, red lights that pulse along them to the beat of the music, and attackers that sense you passing above or beneath them and shoot toward you.
Because the platforms you create only last for a few seconds, and you can only make a limited number before having to touch an existing platform to refill your stash, Octahedron plays pretty fast. There's a definite rhythm to it. After each successful dash you get to safety, then look out over the next expanse of pulsing danger and distant gaps and electric barriers, plot your next move, and leap into it.
At first it's pretty soothing, like sinking back into old habits. But after the first few levels the falls, electrocutions, and deaths become regular. The difficulty ramps up real fast. The precision and timing requirements get steep, and by level 1-4 I was starting to sweat. There are apparently 50 levels in this underground neon nightmare and I'm not sure I've got what it takes to see all of them. That said, they're easier to read than they look at first—all those flashing bursts quickly resolve into familiar patterns and new elements (like elevators that propel you up if you make a platform at their base) are introduced slowly enough to not be overwhelming.
As well as the platformer-with-a-twist, what Octahedron reminds me of is old arcade games and the early home consoles that aped them. The way the main character runs is right out of Pitfall! and the climb-and-fall reminds me of Q-Bert and Quick Step. All those bright flashing lights and harsh sounds are right out of a noisy arcade, and so is the escalating difficulty that means sometimes a mistimed jump sends you tumbling back toward the start.
Demimonde Games is planning to release Octahedron on March 20.