I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to play a game that’s more relaxing than challenging. At the end of a long week, or even a long weekend, I haven’t got the energy to endure through something like The Binding of Isaac or Star Wars: Dark Forces on Hard mode (where the difficulty lies in subtly respawning enemies, loads of booby traps, and trigger-happy Trandoshan bastards). Even all the bright, beautiful colors start to get to me after a while, especially late into the evening. But make no mistake: whether you’re hanging by a thread of energy or are just looking for a nice massage rather than full-body stretching session from your videogames, you’ll find what you want and more with Love+.
So what is Love+, and what makes it different? For one, it’s a relieving lack of visual flair. Some might count this against the game and prefer more stimulating graphics, but I think that’s missing the point of a game like Love+: relaxation. Stress-relief. An easy-going adventure that massages your brain and your eyes instead of straining them. You’ll die and make mistakes, but you’re more likely to laugh at your pratfalls than be upset about them or ragequit. This is aided by not only the game’s presentation, but also by its play mechanics. This is a very friendly game; there are no bad guys out to try and kill you, you start out with 100 lives off the bat, and you don’t need to collect coins or other MacGuffins to save your game or set up a checkpoint. All you have to do is push a button and a swirling checkpoint appears right where you’re standing. You don’t even have to be on a special platform for it, and if it turns out you don’t like where you put your last checkpoint, you can either make a new one or hit Down+S to replace the checkpoint to the beginning of the stage. And if you want some more challenge, just don’t use checkpoints at all and test your skills. You can even self-detonate to reload from the last checkpoint. It’s all good, man.
Let’s talk about the presentation now for a bit. For starters, the game makes good aesthetic choices with the Atari-esque color palette, using contrast to directly serve the gameplay. You are white, the background is black, and stuff you can interact with that isn’t part of the level architecture is also white. Hazards likes spikes, though also white, are easily distinguishable from safe objects like the elliptical bounce pads. The structures you’ll be running and jumping across range from simple and functional to artfully detailed, using negative bit space and single-tone colors to create complex-looking stages that are both easy on the eyes and a pleasure to look at. It’s a perfect example of minimalism in action, and I love every bit of it.
You might find yourself comparing this to another classically minimalist Atari-esque indie game by the name of VVVVVV, which accomplishes much of the same things that this game does in combining simple visuals with lovely musical atmosphere and a forgiving game design. However, unlike VVVVVV, Love+ occupies the same halls as classic indie titles like Super Meat Boy or I Wanna Be the Guy, where you go from stage to stage in a classic platforming gauntlet; whereas VVVVVV is in the same Metroidvania boat as Cave Story. That being said, what’s nice about Love+ is that it isn’t just an affair where you faff about from left-to-right, but also from right-to-left and top-to-bottom. It’s a great way to change the feel from one stage to another in conjunction with differing color schemes.
Love+ is at once both a cute love letter to classic platformers and a very, very relaxing game. Resembling a lost Atari title, you’ll find yourself laughing at your own pratfalls thanks to a fun assortment of death sound effects, 100 lives to burn through, and an even friendlier checkpoint system than They Bleed Pixels. All the while, you’ll find yourself flowing to the lovely music and gelling with the game until you are both one in a Zen-like singularity of loving perfection. Plus, like any good Atari classic, it’s perfect for playing at the dead of night. Go enjoy the first two levels and the soundtrack for free here and give it a vote and favorite while you’re at it. Fred “Trunks” Woods and James Bennett are counting on you to prove Anna Sweet wrong. Let’s bring this game to Steam, people!