Brainy Studio bring us their self-proclaimed ‘platformer without platforms’ TurnOn, inspired by WWF’s global movement ‘Earth Hour’. What other kind of turn on were you thinking of?
A short cut scene when you play TurnOn for the first time explains how a city is turned into darkness following an accident at the local power station; your role is to bring the electricity back to the city through the control of a blue spark and its ability to restore power to the local citizens. TurnOn’s gameplay is simplistic; control the spark using the thumb stick, jump using the ‘A’ button and fall using the ‘X’ button. The defining experience is the sheer joy of discovering each beautifully crafted level, accompanied by a stunning soundtrack.
Before the start of each level you’re greeted by a comic book style slide show, explaining what awaits you and hinting at the path to completion. One level has you rescuing a young girl cornered by an angry looking dog, requiring you to set her free, reactivating the street lights and scaring off the dog. Continuing to light the path, you discover and repower the generators before reuniting the girl with her family.
Another slide show explains how a flying droid has lost control following a lightning strike and it’s down to you to attack the droid with your spark to deactivate it across the level. The level design is superb throughout the game and although the story is best described as simplistic at best, it is easy to follow and doesn’t include any subplots or confusing characters. A pleasure to kick back, relax and not waste brain power attempting to understand a confusing story which tends to be norm in some modern AAA games, sometimes feeling like an afterthought.
It’s hard to resist the charm of the game’s simplistic gameplay; each level has multiple power lines at different heights, flowing across each level and no matter how close or far away they are to the screen, it’s incredibly easy to swap between lines just by jumping up or dropping down. It works really well although a little hard to get your head around during the first few levels. Each map has multiple lights requiring the spark’s touch to illuminate, and generators that – once activated – unveil new paths across the map or light up entire buildings.
Accessing certain parts of each map are not immediately obvious. A car on one level blocks the road due to a broken traffic light; after reactivating the nearby generator, the traffic light changes to green and the car moves, revealing a hole in the ground which contained more generators and so on. Combine these challenges with collectable lightning bolts dotted around the map and you are awarded a score at the end of your efforts, earning a rating out of three stars. The stars do not affect progress, but perfectionists will want to go back and earn the associated achievement for a clean sweep.
To keep things interesting and to avoid repetitive gameplay, bringing a change in pace to TurnOn are some ‘on rails’ levels. The spark automatically travels across the map along powerlines at the pace of the music, travelling faster when the tempo increases or slowing down due to the more sombre beats (very Rayman-esque); all that’s left to you is to either jump across gaps or change power lines avoiding obstacles. The choice of music is spot on and although these levels do result in trial and error, I didn’t mind trying over and over again thanks to the joy they brought me as I frantically jumped across the map, my spark moved quicker as the pace of the music increased. The soundtrack is consistently impressive not only across this mode, but throughout the whole game.
The art style isn’t quite as impressive, but has some likeability thanks to its cartoony style; TurnOn almost pulls you in to want to bring light back to the city with the character of each level, seeing the citizens looking gloomy, or burglars prowling around dim lit areas. Each level has something going on and makes you want to bring light back to the place. Understandably the levels can be quite dark (after all it’s night time and the lights have gone out), but somehow the developers have managed to bring charm to the look of the game and makes lighting up the level more satisfying.
There are very few things wrong with TurnOn. If I had to pick fault, the slight jump delay can be frustrating to begin with but after a while you time your jumps to compensate. Although each level isn’t huge, it’s sometimes difficult to understand where to go next as you may have missed a generator earlier in the level (easy enough to miss due to the darkness in some parts) resulting in aimlessly jumping around the map in the hope of triggering progress. Falling off the power lines takes you back to the checkpoint with no other penalties and although it won’t take you long to get back to where you were, more checkpoints would have made it a little less frustrating.
I’m digging deep to criticise what is overall a solidly made game from such a small development team. Brainy Studio deserve a lot of credit for what they have produced. TurnOn manages to do something where many games fail. Although challenging and sometimes puzzling, it always feels relaxing and enjoyable. With so many indie games released through the ID@Xbox programme it’s difficult to be able to pick out some truly great games and sadly some are overlooked because of this. However, TurnOn is one of those games that shouldn’t be overlooked.
TurnOn was covered via a download code of the Xbox One edition, provided by Xbox.