Party games are pretty pedestrian affairs these days. The Karaoke-styled titles are on the wane from overexposure, plastic instruments have fallen flat after their recent attempt at revival, and beyond that is a slew of board game-inspired cheapo games that would be better off staying in their physical form. Of course, if you want fresh takes on tired genres, then there are plenty of indie titles around that try something a bit different. In this particular genre we’ve had a few fun competitive couch multiplayer games, but rarely do they feature a multitude of game types to compete in. Will Sykes’ mini-game compendium Perfect Universe does this, bringing its own touches to the genre.
Perfect Universe brings a series of gravity-based mini-games together for your party-centric pleasures, and brings them in an interestingly-designed manner as well. Perfect Universe’s visuals ape a hand drawn, monochrome, pen and paper look, almost like a series of flip book doodles or charcoal sketches, made virtual. It’s a bold look, giving it an instant sense of identity and charm. It can come across as a little bleak, cold, and stark in places, perhaps a tad too sterile in its crisp whiteness, but for the most part the presentation is endearing enough thanks to the action on screen.
So onto these mini-games. They all share some D.N.A. with other traditional mini-games, yet Sykes’ game fully commits to the gravity/space theme in the design of them. Your first port of call will likely be the three single player games that essentially act as extended tutorials for the multiplayer portion.
The first of these is Perfect Moon, a single player platform challenge series that sees your avatar trying to reach and collect jewels in the quickest time possible. Your ability to jump is boosted by the low gravity and as soon as you start tearing through the early stages, things get shaken up with more gravity-based hijinks as you use it to leap between ground above, and to the sides, of you. Throw in a bunch of perilous obstacles and you have an increasingly complex task on your hands. It’s quite fun, if a little frustrating as you get nearer the end of this set of stages, a theme that runs through pretty much every set of stages in Perfect Universe. Some don’t stay fun for quite as long, or in rare cases, are just simply no fun at all. The variation of tastes and preferences may dictate which ones fall into these camps for others; for myself, the second single player mini-game series, Moon Life, was by far the most frustrating and joyless of all the games in Perfect Universe.
Moon Life puts you in control of an alien dubbed Mr. Legs, and your job is to get him from one side of the screen to the other. The caveat to this is that to move Mr. Legs, you must use the two thumbsticks as his legs. In theory this sounds a little novel and not all that hard to grasp. I found it to be quite the opposite. Mr. Legs’…legs are horribly fiddly things that don’t seem to respond consistently to your movements. I don’t have the greatest hand-eye coordination in the world, but I know I’m not as terrible at games as Moon Life made me feel. That Mr. Legs forms the basis of one of the party games feels odd as there’s nowhere near enough ease of use to make it fun enough to use with friends. As a result the stages featuring the fiddly bugger are easily the biggest misstep in Perfect Universe’s catalog of mini-games. Sure, it does get easier once you’ve practiced for a bit, but that takes way too long, and still, the character remains as horrid to maneuver.
The third of the single player modes is a bit more pleasant from the very first go. Starlight sees you controlling a rocket and collecting all the fireworks on any particular level. You use your rocket’s thrusters to give you small boosts forward in whatever direction you’re facing. When you’re not using the boosters, you just tend to slowly drift round. Finding the right balance between these as well as ensuring your trajectory is spot on are key to collecting all the fireworks in the quickest time possible and thus achieving the full three star rating for each of the stages. As with Perfect Moon, Starlight’s stages escalate gradually, adding more obstacles and hazards as you progress.
The reason why Perfect Moon and Starlight work well and Moon Life does not comes down to how much basic understanding you’re given, and how little work that requires going forward to fully get to grips with. Party games should be simple enough for anyone to get the basic idea of, and on this, Moon Life, and its party game spinoff, fails.
The overall highlight of the entire package is Sports Day, a compilation of six vs mini-games that takes your learned knowledge and applies it to something a bit more competitive. You can face off against the A.I. or play against up to three other friends in local multiplayer. The first of these games, Moon Golf, is great fun, playing off the gravity features to create a new breed of crazy golf that’s compelling in a rather novel way. Rocket Ball is very much like Rocket League, only in a top down fashion and with actual rockets. Balloon Pop is the Mr. Legs mini-game I alluded to earlier. It’s more enjoyable than the single player stuff, but still a bit too fiddly and complex. The rest are takes on volleyball (Moon Volley: It’s not bad!), a rather enjoyable dodgeball game (Gravity Dodge), and finally we have Space Race, which is a mini-racing game with rockets that’s more chaotic than competitive thanks to the ‘sensitive’ controls of the rockets.
The six game party package has more hits than misses, but with only six to choose from to begin with, that doesn’t leave a whole lot left. Yet I find it hard to be dismissive of Perfect Universe. The charcoal on paper aesthetic is well done and presented superbly, and the fact that this game dares to try something new with the concept of a party game is pretty admirable, even if it doesn’t always work out quite as well as it could. Short bursts work best here, as elongated play sessions really show up the shortcomings. Even so, at the right price, Perfect Universe is worth exploring.