Human beings can be divided in many ways. Placing them into two broad, disparate categories is a favorite exercise of mine. For example: There are creative people, who enjoy working from one conclusion and forming, through the skillful manipulation of countless tools and means, an end result such as a novel or other piece of literature.
Then are are cerebral people, who enjoy working through the skillful manipulation of countless tools and means, in order to arrive at one conclusion, such as the solution to a complex math problem. It is this segment of humanity, the latter, the ones who enjoy working to find the One Single Possible Answer, that will truly get more of a kick out of the retro-style Cross-Side.
Cross-Side will be released on March 13, 2013, independently by its creator Pixelh8. Pixelh8, who can be followed on Twitter, has made other games in the past, such as Ocarbot (review), which actually shares a fictional universe with Cross Side, although the two titles play quite differently. Interestingly, Pixelh8 himself would seem like more of the creative type of person mentioned above, since he also composes enjoyable ditties in chiptune format. His love of a brain-busting puzzle, however, soon becomes apparent.
The execution of Cross-Side falls into the “easy to learn, hard to master” array of electronic amusement. The player is to complete level after level, each with the same mission: Bring two controllable characters to the goal space in the grid-based environment. However, there is a catch: The two characters are bifurcated, each to their own half of the screen, and controlled simultaneously, despite the fact that the obstacles on their side may differ from the other.
In other words: If the player inputs Left, both characters move one square left. If the player inputs Right, both little robot characters move one square right, and so forth. But if the robot on the left side of the screen has a hole one square left, whereas the right-side robot does not, then pressing Left will cause the left-side robot to fall into the hole and die, thus failing the stage.
Controlling two characters at the same time can seem daunting enough, but the first ten levels form a tutorial to teach the player how to orient their mind to this way of game-thinking. From there, though, there is little mercy to be found. Having to accommodate for holes in the ground is one thing, but having to push blocks into said holes, activate switches for time-sensitive laser gates, maneuver under sometimes-transparent platforms, floor planels that become deadly holes after just one use, and even just having to account for several moves in advance, are quite another matter entirely.
Soon, the player will begin to consider every stage systematically. Since the goal square on the right side of the screen is one spot left and two spots down compared to its location on the left, this means I will need to keep the robot on the right side stuck on a downward black while maneuvering the left robot down twice, but since there is a hole to the left and right on the appropriate row, I will first need to move both bots upward, in order to access the only block on the right side that no holes are near, except that in three moves the left-side robot will just come up against another hole anyway...
Yeah, it can get fairly challenging. At least the title screen allows you to return to the latest level you have ever reached, and “death” merely lets you retry the stage. There are 60 boards in all, taking place across 6 different worlds, each of a different theme, and even the most ardent puzzle-lovers will likely take at least a few hours to solve them all. The mileage of other players may vary.
Those familiar with the look of Ocarbot will feel right at home with Cross-Side and its retro appearance, utilizing two-dimensional pixel graphics, appearing like a fond ol' shareware PC title or similar game. Later levels do introduce some interesting animations, such as falling boulders and rocket launches, as Pixelh8 shows off a few graphical flourishes that were not present in the earlier Ocarbot effort.
Another intriguing feature is the presence of achievements and even items that are tracked, giving the player an additional challenge just to try and pick them up before completing the requisite level. Each stage already has a steep baseline challenge by letting the player know the minimum number of moves that the stage can be beaten in, and constantly chiding to try the stage again for a better score.
Fair warning, OCD gamers: There are also silly costumes to unlock.
One advantage of a simplistic-looking game is that any would-be player knows exactly what they are in for, the moment they look at the screenshots. Either Cross-Side is your type of game, or it is not. Even Pixelh8 describes it as “infuriating,” which should speak to its experience. Regardless of the intellect or genre disposition of the potential player, Cross-Side is clearly banking on the immense sense of satisfaction brought on by defeating some of the truly evil levels at work.
Players interested in an old-school brain-suplexing puzzle game on PC or mobile devices with a couple bucks to spare can actually pre-order the game on a special page before it officially debuts on March 13 at the Apple App Store, Android Google Play, Indievania, and other outlets. Note: Cross-Side is available in several different languages, including Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and German. As Pixelh8 has crafted a chiptuney soundtrack just for Cross-Side, that will be offered as a separate purchase as well.
Eric Bailey blogs at NintendoLegend.com, where he is reviewing every American-released NES video game. He also serves as Editor-In-Chief of retro gaming features site 1MoreCastle.com, and can be followed on Twitter @Nintendo_Legend.