So I was actually playing today’s game, Deleveled, 15 years ago. I played it every time my friends and I tried to kill Absolute Virtue. Oh wait, this game is new? And it’s a puzzle game, not an MMORPG? Oh right, that was Final Fantasy XI, easy mistake to make…
Sorry, a bit of an inside joke there. While FFXI is near and dear to me, so is the entire puzzle genre, so I couldn’t pass this up. What we have here is rather unique brand of puzzle-platforming which the developers, ToasterFuel, describe as a jumping game without a jump button. How do you jump without a jump button? Let’s find out!
Deleveled was released on September 10, 2020 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC via Steam. The PC version was played for this review.
In Deleveled, you play in an environment that resembles an Atari 2600 game, simultaneously controlling two squares with the same movement controls. For much of the game, your only commands are to move left and right, or press ‘R’ to reset the squares to their starting positions. Your goal is to simply bring both squares to their exit points to move to the next level. Simple, right?
Not quite. Each of the two squares has opposing gravity – that is, one falls up and the other falls down. This creates the core mechanic you’ll need in varying forms to clear every stage: Whenever one or both squares fall onto both sides of a platform, they will exchange momentum at the point of impact, causing one or both to jump, depending on whether one or both were moving at the time. You’ll use this to bounce to higher/lower platforms, get around obstacles, and so on. While the controls are simple they’re also fluid and responsive, and you will never feel like your mistake was the game’s fault. It’s also completely intuitive, and the punishment for failiure is minimal, so it doesn’t hurt at all to simply try everything.
There are ten worlds with twelve stages in each. Each world introduces a new mechanic to complicate your quest. There’s no story of any kind here; from the instant you launch the game for the first time, it drops you straight into the first level without any action on your part. You’ll start out just moving the squares to the exit. Then, you’ll have to press all the switches to activate the exit, and it only gets more elaborate from there! The game keeps evolving and uses mechanics in new ways in nearly every level, which means lots of out-of-the-box thinking is needed and that is the mark of a good puzzler. It also does so nice and gradually, so you don’t feel overwhelmed, while still having to think and strategize- very well done here.
This offers plenty of variety, and there is a nice, gradual difficulty gradient that’s almost perfect. It seems like each level will end up taking you just a bit longer to solve than the last one, and then a bit longer to earn the star for clearing the level without any errors. Collecting these stars is required to open one level in each world. One other level is also locked until a certain pair of switches is pressed in a certain level, so you’ll likely need to backtrack a bit to complete everything. This is fine though because it makes you take a different approach to some of the levels you’ve already done before, adding some slightly secretive spice to the game.
I can pretty much only find one legitimate negative with the game. If you want to star a level the first time, you’ll want to reset once you figure the puzzle out. But pressing “R” to reset once you’ve died with a switch active will mean no star for you. This is fine if you’re focused on just completing the level, but to fully start the level over once you’ve pressed a switch, you must open the menu and hit reset level. If you haven’t pressed a switch yet, both of these commands will seem the same, so you may be confused about how to really start the level over. Well…that was a lot of words for a pretty minor problem!
I suppose I could note there’s no level editor, something I honestly think every self-respecting puzzle game should have. However, this isn’t important to everybody, and the game offers an otherwise complete experience, so I’ll give it a pass.
Square Balls, Square Waves
Deleveled has an entirely retro design. It looks and sounds like an early 8-bit game, save for some visual effects to give it some modern flair. This isn’t a bad thing. It manages to achieve a wonderful sort of simple beauty with the incredibly simple level visuals coupled to equally simple but very stylish backgrounds and visual effects. They are appealing but don’t at all distract from your puzzle-solving mission.
The audio experience is equally wonderful. The game’s soundtrack, which was composed with a tool designed to mimic the sound capabilities of the original NES/Famicom, offers a nice variety of catchy tunes that manage to create some distinct music styles using just simple square waves and noise channels. This combines with the graphic style to really amp up the overall quality from ordinary to extraordinary. As am aside, The soundtrack is available seperately and includes the FamiTracker files the music was created with, a really nice bonus if you are into old school chiptune synth.
Whoops, Back to Square One
Beyond the reset confusion, it’s hard to find any flaws in this game. The puzzle concept is a lot of fun, the visuals are just about perfect for a retro styled game, the 8-bit synth audio experience is on point, and it manages to stump you without overtly frustrating you – a crowning achievement among puzzle games. Give Deleveled a go, I highly doubt you’ll regret it.
Review copy provided by The Quantom Astrophysicist’s Guild for Steam. Screenshots taken by reviewer.