The developer for Circa Infinity, 21 year old NYU Undergraduate Kenny Sun, describes the game as a “brain-melting circular platformer” through its official website. It sounds like a fairly intense assertion, but anyone sitting down with the game for even the slightest length of time will quickly discover the truth within it. But just what is it that makes this title so frustratingly challenging?
Well, even starting Circa Infinity is like wandering aimlessly into a dense country lane during a pitch black midnight and trying to find your way home again with no map or directions. Even the game’s opening credits run over a teaser of the gameplay that’s to come, but players will receive no guidance on how to proceed or progress. The controls, while ultimately very basic, are not explained and there is absolutely no hint of the type of spoon-feeding tutorial that so many games labour themselves early on. Players of Circa Infinity will quickly come to realize that they are in for a fairly solitary challenge as they progress through the experience.
In these early stages, the tone is set fairly decisively as well. The soundtrack is tense and its electronic style matches the retro visuals to sculpt the whole experience, which is one of a sweet blend between old and new styles. At times I found that the blends and sweeps between levels or menus to be so fluid that it forced me to re-realize that I wasn’t actually playing a game from the 80s. Circa Infinity captures the charm of that era but uses our time’s better hardware to polish the finished article in something as tense and trippy as a Walter Bishop LSD fantasy.
It’s not just the aesthetics of the game that recall gaming’s simpler time, either. The gameplay itself is influenced so clearly by the classic era of platform side-scrollers, but twisted to provide an alternative challenge on spinning, circular plains. Ultimately, the goal from this is simple; players have to guide the limbo-ed protagonist through a constant stream of stages. Right and left keyboard arrows will allow players to race around the inside or outside edge of each circle, with the up and down arrows letting you jump in and out of these. It’s almost staggeringly simple, but even the first easy stages are made more complicated by the fact that you pretty much have to figure things out as you go along.
By the time you’ve got to grips with the rhythms and routines of moving your character around and amongst the stream of circles, you’ll quickly find that the challenge is increased by the addition of a variety of demon-like enemies. These come in various shapes and sizes, each with differing movement and behaviour patterns designed to catch players out. While you may quickly get to grips with manoeuvring around enemies walking in one direction, the game will soon challenge you by adding a layer of floating enemies travelling in the opposite direction. Suddenly a simple rhythm puzzle becomes all about timing and reactions, and the game varies this regularly as you work your way through the spiral.
But while the frustrating challenge of Circa Infinity will endear many players, its niche approach will likely see it alienate more casual audiences. While I played through the game, I tried to stay as focused as possible, but after clearing each stage I regularly found I wanted to step away for a few moments before attempting the next. This may not sound too damning a suggestion, but when most of the game’s fifty stages can be passed with two or three minutes, that kind of stop/start relationship is never a particularly good thing.
Repetition also becomes a problem for Circa Infinity in its latter stages. In its early challenges the game provides a seemingly endless stream of enemies and obstacles for its players to overcome, but this illusion is quickly shattered once you realize just how limiting the small-scale of each platform is. With the best will in the world, there’s only so much you can fit into each level before they become overloaded and thus too difficult to actually complete. Circa Infinity never falls into this particular trap, but ultimately suffers an eventual lack of originality for it.
While it’s not a perfect game, Circa Infinity does a lot of things very well. It’s platform puzzles certainly will make its players’ brains ache on many an occasion and the bleak, trippy atmosphere definitely makes for a stirring experience. The freshness of the challenge does unfortunately start to wain as the game wears on, however, which may see it struggle to keep the attention much after the first couple of hours. That being said, if you’re looking for a unique but not excessively demanding challenge, then this could certainly be a game to consider.
This review is based on the PC copy of the game, which was provided to us.
It's not a perfect game, but Circa Infinity offers an intense challenge that will frustrate even the most ambitious gamers.