Only Up! is a game where "you have to get as high as possible." And no, not like that—it's a low-budget indie platformer about climbing to the top of a weird, floating structure made of railway tracks, giant slices of fruit, floating islands, and things far weird than that. And right now, nearly 150,000 people are watching it on Twitch.
The top channel on the Only Up! category right now belongs to xQc (and yes, that xQc, the guy who got $100 million to stream on Twitch competitor Kick less than a week ago), who at the time of writing has 71,000 people watching him play. But as you can see from the category front page, he's far from alone:
The concept of Only Up! is simple: You are Jackie, desperately trying to escape the poverty of the slum in which you live. To do so, you embark upon a journey inspired by the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, climbing ever upward into the unknown.
"The world has definitely gone crazy, though it has never been normal, but maybe now is the chance for you," the Steam page states. "Crisis is a time for action and decisive steps… except it's scary, because every step can set you back far.
"Sometimes it is difficult to choose the right path, but do not be afraid, you can always repeat, we learn from mistakes."
Mechanically, Only Up! is quite simple. It's played from the third-person perspective, you can walk, run, jump, or mantle onto things, and you can't die: Even if you fall from miles up in the sky, you'll lose progress but not your life when you land. Predictably, it's a little janky: There are some fairly obvious clipping errors, and the voice acting is repetitive and decidedly not great.
As suggested by the Steam store page, I could feel the game reaching for some level of profundity, but it mostly just came off as weird. At one point, for instance, I reached a disembodied train platform in the sky: Jackie said, "My grandfather worked here for 60 years, and then he died." Later, upon meeting a friendly dog, he said, "What a nice dog. Your master isn't coming back. Go find a new one." It seems clear that English isn't the first language for developer SCKR Games, but even so some of the in-game commentary struck me as bizarre.
The reaction on Steam is also "mixed," with just 65% of the user reviews coming in positive. One of the chief complaints (which I wholeheartedly agree with) is the lack of a save feature: If you quit the game or crash out, you have to start over from the beginning in a new session.
There's also unhappiness with Only Up's adjacency to NFTs. You're not buying NFTs in-game (as far as I have seen, anyway), but various images from the Goblintown NFT series, for instance, can be seen in locations throughout the game. The title of the game also appears to be a play on "Up Only," a fairly well-known phrase in the world of NFTs which among other things was the title of a once-popular NFT-related podcast. NFT app Floor also recently launched a new feature called—you guessed it—Up Only mode.
More overtly, the player character's jacket has the Goblintown logo on the back (and the name emblazoned across the front, although it's tricky to see), and there's actually a Goblintown mask you can put on at the start of the game.
There's no visible disclosure of a connection, so most of that will probably go unnoticed by most players, but clearly there's some kind of connection, with Goblintown also now selling official, real-world Only Up! hoodies and t-shirts, at ridiculously inflated prices. I’ve reached out to Goblintown and SCKR Games to ask about the nature of their relationship.
ᵢₜₛ dₐ gₒbbᵢₑ ₕₒₒdᵢₑ fᵣₒₘ @SCKRgames #onlyup!https://t.co/AU60qSeIK0 pic.twitter.com/mbB8EITAzlJune 21, 2023
It feels sketchy, and yet there's something about the game that’s also oddly alluring. I absolutely loathe games that are designed solely to make me angry, like Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy or the upcoming follow-up Baby Steps—I think I played Getting Over It for about five minutes before I punched my dog and formatted my hard drive—and let there be no doubt, that is absolutely what Only Up! Is all about.
But it's also kind of beautiful in its strangeness and simplicity. There are many moments where the way forward isn't clear, so I was forced to stop and examine my surroundings fairly closely, and maybe I'm seeing something that's not really there but I felt a powerful childlike fantasy vibe that really gave me that "let's just see what's around the next corner" feeling. Falling is incredibly frustrating, although it's not too hard to catch yourself on the way down if a structure is nearby, but I also found that with a little care (Only Up! also has "slow walking" and "slow motion" options, so you can really creep along if you need to), I didn't fall much at all.
I don't think it's a good game, and I have doubts about the durability of its popularity on Twitch, and there's an undeniable dodginess to the NFT aspect. Despite all that, I can see why people watch (and play) it. If you enjoy streamers who get mad and yell and scream and freak out, Only Up! definitely has the potential to set some of them off; and if you're in the mood for a quiet, simple, "what's next?" journey that may or may not make any sense when it's all over, it could be that, too.
For the record, there is an end to Only Up!: Newly-crowned king of Twitch Kai Cenat played through it from start to finish last week—a stream that, according to TwitchTrakcer, is what touched off Only Up's sudden surge in popularity.
Kai Cenat beat Only Up on only his 3rd time playing the game😤🔥🔥*VOLUME WARNING* pic.twitter.com/sshtZqybg1June 16, 2023