There’s a reason you subscribe to some developers’ Itch.io feeds. Ismael Rodriguez is an excellent example, who released the wonderful Below The Ocean last year. Into my emails pinged an update for a new, free game, Toy Cavers, and I’m just so pleased it did.
Created for the ongoing Itch game jam, Lost Relic Games, Toy Cavers takes the physicsy swinging ropes of Below The Ocean (which you should get right now!), and instead of applying them as oxygen tubes, this time uses them as a tether between two pixel characters, working together to explore a system of caves.
Do not be fooled by the incredibly simplistic-looking presentation. (Not lease because it’s also bloomin’ gorgeous.) This is a game to enjoy right away, but master as you play. Each clockwork character has a pick, and you switch between them by their alternating swings. Once you’re in control of one, you can then move them around platform-style, including jumping them up walls due to what I’ve decided are very spikey shoes. The other gets tugged along behind by the tether.
However, pin one in place with their pick, and the other can then somewhat improbably swing on the tether, allowing them to fling about the caves, and jab a pick into another wall. Thus you begin having the two characters work together to navigate their way across pits, avoiding spikes, and majestically negotiating their way through the cave chambers.
It’s in the art of the swing where the mastery comes. It’s technically playable on controller, but I’ve had some real issues getting the jump to work properly, so I suggest sticking to the mouse/keyboard controls. Here, you move them about with WASD, and it’ll take a bit of practise to get the rope-swinging controls just right. Once you do, wow, what a pleasure it is to play, deftly switching between the two to clear obstacles, climb pillars, and avoid those pesky pink spikes.
Most of the game’s levels are set in dimly lit caves, but brighten in the area in which your toy explores are stood. This creates some lovely effects on the six-color scenes, and also adds an extra element of exploration, as you want to make sure to know what you’re leaping toward. (However, the game is extremely forgiving, with infinite lives, and a checkpoint on every screen.) Doing so pushes you toward experimenting with the tether, and some really lovely moments of success.
Each area also has an optional coin to collect, placed in a spot that requires extra-tricky maneuvers. I was so damned pleased with myself when I worked out how to lower one of the characters down a hole above a pit of spikes to gather one golden trinket.
This is a ridiculously solid game for a week-long game jam entry! Also for one that’s free. However, this being Itch.io, you can of course choose to pay for it if you can. I’d recommend doing so. There’s a good hour of fun here, if you take your time and get all the coins. I’m very pleased to have discovered this.