The wonderful thing about the indie gaming community is the simple fact there are several little gems, regardless of genre. Some are even hiding in plain sight on digital distribution sites. One of those gems belongs to the platforming genre, and that gem is Gish. It is a fun game to play — period.
Gish has a very basic plot and stars a blob of tar of the same name. You see, he’s spending a nice afternoon picnic with a girl friend when some crazy creature comes out of nowhere and kidnaps her. So, being the good friend type, he jumps down the manhole after them. Yes, that’s all there is to the plot. But that’s not where the game shines.
The game shines in its traditional platformer with solid physics. Since Gish is a ball of goo, he has to hop up and down several times to gain some height. From there, he can cling to the platform or wall and climb up and continue his quest. Or he can use the height to his advantage and make himself heavy to break things. He can also use his weight to get objects like trolleys moving. And the final “power” Gish has is to make himself slippery. This allows him to slip down chutes and other tight spaces. In other words, you’re working at getting him from one area to another as quickly as possible. Plus levels are short, taking about seven minutes (and under) to complete.
As such, Gish sounds a bit odd. In a way, it is odd due to the odd platforming style. However, it fits the game’s world rather well. It creates an experience like no other. Gish controls rather well, though it does take a bit of practice to master it. It works even better if you play with a game controller. However, the problem with that is you can’t mess with the X and Y axis, or the game will not work.
However, the controller issue is a minor problem with the game. The main problem is that in certain levels, it is possible to “break” the game. Certain platforms can be severed from their connectors, permanently impeding your progress. Sometimes it isn’t possible to know when to do something or to know how much momentum it will take to destroy a few blocks or if your aim is a bit off. Or it can be tricky creating enough momentum to cross an obstacle. What can hurt the most is the simply horrific fact that the game takes away a life to quit the game to save your progress. Did I mention that extra lives are exceedingly rare?
Graphically, Gish has a pleasant 2-D retro vibe. If I didn’t know any better, I could swear this was a forgotten title for the SNES. Sprites are big and detailed and move well. In fact, Gish expands, contracts and swishes along the various levels. It is also easy to tell which special ability he is using. While backgrounds are forgettable, what is in front of him is much more interesting. The way the levels are laid out are unique and engaging, whether it is sliding down a chute, bouncing over platforms held by rope or riding a mining cart. Best of all, it all moves smoothly.
If there is one thing lacking in Gish, it is the lack of sound effects. You will never hear Gish glide along or change his size or the platforms crumble or jingle as Gish jumps on them. You will hear him bob out of the water, blocks fall apart and the upbeat music that has a poppy jazz feel.
While there may not be much to say about Gish, it is a pleasant platformer. It is one of those games I quickly admit I do not play often enough. However, playing it is like returning to an old friend. It still feels fresh since its release. It is available for download for $10 from Steam, and it is a very solid and worthy price. Go discover how some creativity and technically strong mechanics makes something old feel brand new.