Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: frecle APS
Publisher: frecle APS
Release Date: June 27, 2018
TL;DR: Solving puzzles in a physics-defying Parisian sky
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Imagine yourself in Paris, strolling through the streets as they’re lit up by a sun-drenched sky, illuminating the clouds in splashes of yellow, pink, and purple. In the distance you see the Eiffel Tower, with shimmers of light here and there as the tower still stands, defining the city. Now imagine that that tower begins to rumble ever so slightly, before somehow ripping itself from the ground, rising higher and higher over Paris until it’s more part of the sky than it is the city. Then, as if remembering gravity, the huge structure performs a 180, before forgetting it once again and hanging in the air; another rumble and the tower fractures itself, creating Eiffel islands in the sky. Welcome to Youropa.
The breathtaking opening to the game is a far cry from what the game’s atmosphere actually is. Leading you through the fragments of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll solve puzzles and work to unite the landmark once again. But like so much of Youropa, there’s whimsy infused into every seam of the game. The puzzles may seem simple, beginning with activating floor panels to generate doors that will teleport you to a new island, but then you have to contend with small problems like there’s a floor panel tucked neatly away on the ceiling of a tunnel, and your feet are stuck firmly to the floor.
But as you stumble around the island, scratching your head as to what you’re supposed to do, the game quietly does what it does so well throughout the whole game; it guides you ever so gently to the solution. So, as you stumble over to sloping wall and far from walking into the concrete and looking like a chump, your entire perspective changes as you begin traipsing across the wall which has become your new floor.
The mechanic is something we’ve seen before with the like of Fez, using a similar landscape, only changing our perspective of it to create a new layer. Except with Youropa, you’ll easily find three levels wrapped into one. It’s a use of space that’s realised so beautifully, allowing you just enough freedom to have to work something out, like how to get on to a wall, or underneath where the level started, and before you get frustrated with a particular puzzle, you’ll notice inconspicuous clues littered about the confines of the puzzle itself. It might be an ordinary building frame or an eye graffitied on to the floor, but look a little closer and you’ll see a solution buried within.
The puzzles, rather than becoming more and more complex, instead become bigger in scale. Ranging from the simple “activate a floor panel,” to getting the timing of when to pull a switch on a pneumatic tube to get a paintcan going in the right direction, the problems Youropa sets you are defined more by the environment than the tasks becoming too difficult. So whilst the puzzles themselves might not vary massively, the ever-changing platforms you have to manoeuvre put a fresh take on each one.
That’s if you get around to the puzzles. Honestly, I spent a bit too much time just having a wander around each little island you stop at, soaking up the stupidly gorgeous environments. Being suspended in the sky means that the majority of what you’ll see are clouds, but throw in the saturated light that bleeds through them, and the splashes of pink and orange are a treat for the eyes. The islands themselves are littered with the street art I imagine is dotted around Paris – except these are all lovely little pop-art pieces. And amidst all this, hanging in the air is the fragmented Eiffel Tower. You’ll see glimpses of it as you go through each level, but there are specific times when you’re treated to an absolute beauty of a vista shot – and it makes all the puzzle-solving worth it.
You move from one level to another using teleporting doors – see? whimsy. Each door becomes available to you once you pick up a new skill, in a system that’ll be all too familiar to those of you who’ve played a Metroidvania game. And whilst the system may throw you off a little initially, once you’ve figured out the skill you needed to open; say, a door you saw a couple of hours ago, making the journey back in in state of pre-emptive victory as you swagger towards the door that you now have mastery of, is a rewarding feeling indeed.
Of course, having to learn how to pick something up or kick something does seem a little strange. Well, it would be if you were controlling some random Parisian who’s trying to come to terms with their new sky-bound life. But you’re not controlling a Parisian – or even a human for that matter. What you control in the game is what can only be described as a life-size cuddly toy covered in paint. After helping this toy come to life, you’ll get the chance to put your own stamp on this character using spray paint and graffiti style eyes and mouths to humanise this little-toy-that-could. And now that you’ve humanised this… thing, every time you let it fall off an edge, watching the paint covering your character slowly etch away with each death gets a little more heartbreaking.
And whilst so much of Youropa is a slow-paced joy to dip in and out of, it’s not without its flaws, the biggest of which is found in the space build for the most freedom – the game’s map maker. Now, simply having a map maker in the game is a massive bonus, allowing you to create everything from slip and slide courses that you can simply move through and enjoy, to puzzles so complex that your brain will quickly turn to mush as you gaze upon the evil you’ve brought into the world. But – like so many map makers we’ve seen, the system is fiddly; you’re working on a grid system that’s difficult to make out at times, and the building blocks either smack you in the face as they press up against the screen or disappear into the distance. It’s a great feature to have in the game and one that a lot of people will get a sense of mastery of quickly – but I wouldn’t have said no to a quick tutorial.
Youropa is described as being a bubbling pot of Mario Galaxy, Jet Stream Radio, and Portal – and you can see the fragments of each as you play. But Youropa defines itself through a simple but near-perfect use of its environment. Creating dense, teasing puzzles on a piece of land only a handful of meters wide, luring you to stay just that little bit longer with the promise of that next door unlocking, and the simple fact that the game looks stunning, whether you’re bathed in sunlight or drenched in Parisian rain. If you’re into puzzle games, then Youropa has to be your next stop – and if you’re not, well… it’s a great time to start.
- The environments are ridiculously good-looking
- The puzzles naturally build on themselves, meaning you’ve got an idea of how they work quite instinctively
- An excellent variety of puzzle mixed with a clever use of space will keep you coming back for more
- The map-maker is well worth a go, but it’ll be a bit daunting for some
Youropa is rated 3+ in the Uk and “E,” for Everybody in the US. It’s a perfect game to play with your kids, whether it’s figuring out puzzles or having a go at building your own.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.