Format reviewed: Wii U eShop
Other formats available: exclusive
Developer: Astrosaurus Games
Publisher: Astrosaurus Games
Website: Official Website
Spearmint Bear, the self-made billionaire, who wants to build a huge corporate building, obviously to pursue his life-long ambition of looking down on people, asks for the help of tax dodgers and illegal immigrant employer Collateral Thinking. With their expertise of rapid construction at a low budget, surely erecting such a design on an abandoned alien graveyard cannot in anyway backfire.
Collateral Thinking is a single player action platformer game. It's action revolves around the dispersing of demonic alien ghosts, of the green variety, with a construction tool based weapon. The platforming comes into its own when recovering blueprints and rescuing budget constrained billionaires from the clutches of those aforementioned life-challenged extraterrestrials.
Every level occurs within a self-contained screen. And, each level requires one of three specific tasks to allow completion of that level, all within 30 seconds of the start. 'Avoid'; a survival mode where you are weaponless and are required to last out the full 30 seconds without dying. 'Bust'; the player must kill all alien ghosts within the level in under 30 seconds. 'Collect'; in under 30 seconds all Blueprints, marked BP, must be obtained for a sucessful run. With over a hundred levels in total, Collateral Thinking will either test you or break you.
As you can see this is a quick-fire style of play in the vein of the original Mario Bros. game, hints of the classic arcade version of Donkey Kong, and a smattering of the wonderfully addictive Wario Ware series. The biggest downside to all the rapid moving platforming action is the lack of two-player co-op or competitive modes. It seems a perfect game for such shenanigans, but it's sorely missed.
The control scheme is simple enough to pick up easily. No analogue sticks here, the D-Pad moves you, B jumps, and Y attacks. Holding Y, and building a charge, allows for a long-range throw. That's it. As it requires so little input, Collateral Thinking can be played with GamePad, a Wii U Pro Controller or even a sideways held Wii Remote. Off-TV play on the GamePad is a total recommendation due to the nature of this game, doing other things in the background and messing around with this at the same time is perfect. The controls can be a little twitchy. It does take a little while to get to grips with the little amount of input required on the D-Pad for the large movement of output to the TV. This does nothing much to detract from the onscreen action and makes the game feel faster paced than the already manic speed, if not a little loose.
A few instances of jerkiness and slowdown mar an otherwise incredibly smooth experience. The game would lose frame-rates at completely random times, and seemingly not related to what was happening on screen. Fortunately, this happens incredibly infrequently, and is barely noticeable. The action just moves too fast, and the slowdown is for such a short time for it to become an issue at all.
Collateral Thinking is graphically stylistic in the sense of harking back to old classic 8-bit platformers, but the sheer vibrancy of the colour palate is eye-wateringly blissful. The speed that it all moves at is exhilarating. With three playable characters to use, at the very start the solitary Grin is your partner in 'climb'. Making your way upwards level after level is extremely difficult. This game doesn't only hark back to old-school games in its visual design and music, but also in its core mechanics and difficulty curve. Starting with 3 lives and 3 hearts per life, your hearts thankfully being replenished after each successful level attempt, the player must be fast, agile and above all extremely accurate. A little leap too far, and kiss that precious third heart of your third life goodbye, and its back to the lobby/ground floor for you. It's in these death scenes that you'll realise that no matter how good a gamer you are, this may just be the breaking point. The sheer difficulty of Collateral Thinking makes it hard to come back to time and time again. It's a perfect game for parties to pass the GamePad around with, to see who can do the best. As a single player experience, you'll end up with a short play time overall, a co-op multiplayer mode is really missed.
So thankfully, Breaktime is a little period to catch your breath. Every 5 levels the accumulated cash in your reserves can be spent on extra hearts, extra lives, or a mystery purchase for $1500. Or, you can forgoe all these spending proclivities and save your money. Why save when you can spend? Well, the high score table is not populated by what level you climbed to, but by how much money you have been able to collect. The size of your death wallet becomes your level of attainment, and achievement is measured in fat stacks.
Note: If all this high speed, old-school, platforming action doesn't float your boat, then a planned update, within two weeks of the publication of this review, is likely to entice the patient gamer. The update is stated to include a 2-player multiplayer mode including a co-op exclusive fourth character. Remix mode can be unlocked after the game is beaten, this cycles through all 112 stages at randomly. Optimisation and bug fixes, including sheering up some lag and jankiness, difficulty adjustments and control adjustments to make the game feel tighter. I'll be waiting for the update and will give a revised verdict on the finished product at a later date as it seems that the update will address most of my concerns that mar this otherwise well made game.
Review by Lee Davies, originally for Nintendo: Review