In the earliest days of video gaming, we weren’t given impressive, multi-button controllers with which to play a title; we’d get a single button and joystick if we were lucky. Fotonica channels such simpler times by relating all gameplay to one button. Thanks to skillful design, however, even pressing one button leads to surprisingly challenging gameplay. It’s always exciting to see a game with arcade-style addictive qualities available, but rarely do they encompass that concept as purely as Fotonica.
Fotonica makes an immediate impression with its visuals. From the moment you load up the menu to starting up the first level you’re greeted with stark black and white vector-style artwork. This aesthetic is rarely used which is part of the allure. Of course, it simply looks hyper futuristic in a way that complements the game perfectly. The sharp lines create odd environments, from mountainous landscapes to railroad tracks.
Set against complete blackness, each level design stands out as you run through each. Players can mess with visual options as well to get their ideal experience. These aspects can remove the running hands and other aspects for a “pure” running experience. For most players, the default GUI should serve perfectly fine as it hardly distracts from the overall excellent design.
As previously mentioned, the gameplay is incredible in its simplicity. All you have is one button. You press it to run and then let go to cause the protagonist to jump. After they’re in the air, further pressing of the same button will cause them to descend at a quicker pace. If you choose not to press the button while they fly they’ll glide downward in a weightless sort of fashion. That’s all the direct control given. The longer you run without hitting an obstruction, the faster you go. Once the pace is quick enough you enter gold mode which offers an even faster pace.
The issue with speed is that tracks are not simply one flat plane. Every stage requires careful jumping which becomes much tougher in later areas. Completing each stage requires an understanding of your runner’s flow; in particular how they descend after a jump. Fotonica becomes an intense experience once you begin to work this out . Skills are regularly put to the test in later levels with tiny platforms that require precise jumping. Most levels also include multiple pathways which allow for some experimentation as well.
Once you’re finally able to pass every stage, it’s time to crank the difficulty up. There are three difficulties in all and each requires more precision than the last. If you’re proud of your runtimes then the included leaderboard functionality will be a boon as well. As with most runners, there’s also an endless mode to play as long as you can stand it. There’s little else to the package beyond this, but the base game is enjoyable enough.
So far the only disappointment with Fonotica is how few levels there are. Yes, they all look fantastic and are paired with excellent music. Yep, they’ve also got that perfect control scheme to make gameplay engaging — but it ends so soon. There are only a few stages available when most players will be hankering for more. In a much smaller quibble, despite heavy visual customization, there’s no way to remove the grunting sounds of each runner. Honestly, this simple audio sample impinges on the moment rather than enveloping players in it.
Fotonica perfectly encapsulates the feeling of fluid motion. Each level presents a challenge but creates an amazing feeling of power when you can speed across the whole thing without ever slowing down. If not for a few small issues, this would easily become the best title in the runner genre out there. Despite simplistic controls, Fotonica transports players into a beautiful vector landscape that they’ll inhabit for hours.