We’ve seen a few platformers that try to offer an audience grabbing theatrical performance over the years, with titles like ‘Foul Play’ and ‘Puppeteer’ offering enjoyable experiences that embrace the feeling of watching a live show. Xbox One gamers have got more of the same now with Talent Not Included, a frantic old-school platformer that puts you into the middle of a theatrical performance starring a host of fantasy characters, with the stage shifting around as they perform on their grand adventure. The question is will the audience appreciate Talent Not Included’s star-studded show, or will it get jeered into platforming obscurity?
Talent Not Included’s gameplay plays out like a typical 2D platformer. You’ll be pulling off daring jumps to avoid hazards, beating enemies to a pulp, and collecting as many coins as you can to put together high scores to please the crowd (and get an end of level ranking). The further you progress through the game the more difficult it becomes, with tougher enemies, trickier platforming, and deadlier hazards ensuring that you’re always kept on your toes. Anyone who has played a platformer before will instantly feel a sense of familiarity, but it’s still satisfying fun that’ll keep you entertained from start to end.
The game is spread across three acts, with each act made up of a variety of different scenes (or levels if you want to excuse the theatrical lingo). Each of these acts puts you in the shoes of a different ‘actor’: you have the Knight and his brute-like fighting skills, the Rogue with her slick sneaking capabilities, and the Mage who uses his magic to traverse levels and vanquish his foes. Each character plays differently enough for their varying roles to feel significant to gameplay; whilst the platforming nature of the game doesn’t change up too much, having a different means to approach it adds an enjoyable level of variety to each act. Each character has their own different motivation for their quest too, with them all on their own quirky quest that adds some charm to the game.
Whilst you’ll be doing a lot of running and jumping, there are plenty of enemies to take down in Talent Not Included too. Most of these will fall with ease, though there are more formidable foes in the form of the game’s bosses. Don’t go expecting epic encounters though, but rather showdowns that utilise the typical 2D platformer approach of having to learn an enemy’s attack patterns to evade and counter them.
This isn’t a bad thing though – I enjoyed taking on the bosses and it offered a nice little change to the platforming that makes up the bulk of the game. There just wasn’t anything to them that felt particularly unique, with almost all facets of their design being done before in other platformers. Still, why fix something that isn’t broken? It’s still a lot of fun for the player, which is the most important aspect of any video game.
Talent Not Included features a unique aesthetic that sees the camera fixed in one position facing the stage, with levels progressing with old props getting removed from the stage and new ones swinging in. You won’t be scrolling through maps, but always in the one set play area. You’ll see new obstacles, enemies, hazards, and collectibles constantly coming your way, with each change of set bringing a new challenge for the player to conquer. The whole theatrical performance approach has a few neat little touches too, such as the environments of the game clearly looking man-made and flying enemies having visible ropes to support them in the air – it’s full to the brim with these little details that really make you feel like you’re part of a grand theatrical production.
These levels look great on a visual basis too, with each one offering a fantastic 2D world that feels like it’s popping into life every time the stage starts to change. You’ll travel across varied environments during the show with each one giving the player something different to see, with forests, dry lands, and a wintery landscape all showing up. The ever-changing stage ensures none of these locales ever feel the same too, with the effective visual design not only a pleasure to look at but also very complimenting to the gameplay.
The way that Talent Not Included’s levels are built around a stage actually adds to the gameplay too, with a certain sense of urgency felt when seeing the scenery start to move. You’ve got no time to take your foot off the gas, with a swift stage change easily seeing what was once a safe area quickly turn into a deadly hazard zone. It adds to the quick pace of the game’s platforming and keeps things exciting, though it could be a little frustrating too – especially when you’re scraping your way through a level with just one heart remaining only to see it cruelly taken away when a nasty enemy is spawned in front of you. There is a brief indicator to see that everything is changing, but there’s no safety net to protect you from the dangers of unrehearsed theatrical gameplay.
You can tackle the game with another player in multiplayer, adding a bit of co-operative fun to the theatrics. It could be a bit of a mixed bag though; whilst it’s always fun to play anything with a friend, the single-player focused structure of the game means that having another player doesn’t bring any real improvements. There’s just someone else tagging along for the ride, with no real changes made to gameplay to cater for the extra player. Still, there’s fun to be had, even if it isn’t the most in-depth of co-operative experiences.
It’s worth noting that Talent Not Included isn’t going to last you a long time, with the game easily completed in around two hours. There is the aforementioned co-op mode that adds a sense of longevity to the game, though that’s short lived and players looking for a single player experience might be left a little disappointed. You could at least go chasing high scores and those gold rankings on each level, though that too doesn’t offer much outside of personal satisfaction.
Talent Not Included makes for a thoroughly entertaining show with its enjoyable platforming, clever stage-shifting mechanics, and vibrant presentation. There’s a lot on offer that platforming aficionados will love, whilst newcomers to the genre will have a good time too.
It doesn’t do anything you wouldn’t have seen before though, with the game a rather short-lived experience that doesn’t really demand a second viewing. Still, it’s certainly worth checking out if you want to enjoy some old-school platforming fun, with the game’s theatrical platforming effort a good one.
Developer: Frima Studio
Publisher: Frima Studio
Release Date: 05/04/2017
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PC, Mac