You may remember developer Black Pants Studio’s name from the wildly inventive and beloved 2012 3D platforming game, Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers, or from their second game About Love, Hate and the Other Ones released in 2014.
In keeping with the same two-year development cycle, this year brings us On Rusty Trails, the latest 2D platformer from Black Pants Studio.
In On Rusty Trails, you play an adorable little triangle named Elvis, who has recently lost his house due to an unexplained catastrophe. Elvis quickly remembers that he purchased a warranty and can get his house back if he can just speak to the manager who issued it. This simple premise is all it takes to get the player seamlessly jumping from left to right as the story quickly develops into something much deeper and darker than was first apparent.
The visuals and graphical style of On Rusty Trails are immediately striking. The foreboding darkness of backgrounds contrasts nicely with bright pops of blue and red in the foreground making it easy to identify which blocks are traversable. This visual feedback is important as jumping on blocks and changing their colors is the main activity on display here, for the 110 available levels within the game. These levels do an excellent job of introducing the player to the core mechanics of On Rusty Trails and ramp up the difficulty nicely. Ultimately, the pacing of the game is near perfect, and I never felt like I was failing at a particular checkpoint or obstacle due to lack of understanding of the game’s mechanics. This meant that challenges always felt surmountable, if at times a bit finicky.
One of the most important aspects of any platforming game are how tight the controls are, and I’m happy to report that On Rusty Trails handles beautifully. Jumping and switching blocks from red to blue happen instantly as the button is pressed whether you are controlling the game with a gamepad or keyboard. I would, however, suggest playing with a gamepad if you have one as the controls on the keyboard can become a bit cumbersome when making pinpoint jumps at high speeds, a feeling that is punctuated by the game’s delightful music.
On Rusty Trails boasts a dark electronic soundtrack that changes to suit each world.
The melodic notes and bass heavy tracks of the first few levels help to set the tone of the game while frantic drum and bass tracks propel you through middle and late sections. Trails were at its absolute best when I found myself slipping into a syncopated groove as I effortlessly leaped from one platform to the next, instinctively bobbing my head to the beat. Unfortunately, though, On Rusty Trails doesn’t always hit the right notes.
Naturally, as the game progressed, new challenges are thrown into the mix. This included the standard lasers, crumbling platforms, missile sentries, and jump pads. Most of these new additions were fine and added a new layer of difficulty to the levels as they progressed. Although, I found myself restarting sections far too many times to compensate for hazards that lurked just beyond the edge of my screen. Due to this design, it seemed that later levels could not be completed with pure skill or mastery of the game’s mechanics. Instead, trial and error seemed to be par for the course. This frustration ended up culminating in a dizzying and annoying boss fight that had me sighing in relief when it was over. But it wasn’t enough to sour the taste of the excellent game that preceded it.
I’ll be honest, when I first came across On Rusty Trails on Steam I thought about passing it off as another stale addition to the 2D platforming genre that floods the current market. I’m glad I didn’t. On Rusty Trails is a beautifully crafted game with tight controls, a killer soundtrack, and a deep story that unfolds through its narrative and many secrets hidden throughout the campaign. I’d highly recommend it to seasoned veterans of the genre. More importantly, though, I’d recommend it to people like me, who may be a tad rusty when it comes platformers.