Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is a nice gesture from Devolver Digital – a cute little free game to say thanks to all their fans. Dodge Roll Games’ heart is in the right place here, and Holiday Profit Hike is certainly worth the price of admission, but it’s not really worth your time. Hardcore platformers in the vein of Super Meat Boy require a lot in the way of polish and balancing, and the time it would take to handle that is better spent on Enter the Gungeon, which might actually make money for the studio.
Fork Parker is all about making money. The cartoonish CFO of Devolver Digital has served as the company’s mascot for a few years now, ranting all the while about profits. Now starring in his first game, he has to scour a treacherous mountainside for cash so that Devolver can stay in the black for another quarter. The story is just a hilarious excuse for some basic, slightly gimmicky platforming action, and with cutscenes clocking in under 10 seconds, it knows to not outstay its welcome.
The pudgy little business man has a pretty standard arsenal of platforming abilities. He can jump at the touch of a button, slide on and leap from walls, and use his cane to travel along ziplines. What sets Holiday Profit Hike apart is Fork’s ability to throw pitons, which can be used to create ziplines between surfaces made of ice or rock. These allow for some interesting platforming challenges, though they mostly just facilitate skipping sections entirely. Hard-to-reach moneybags or golden eggs encourage a bit of self-imposed challenge, but ignoring them is often a surer way to attain a high score.
Every time Fork Parker dies he loses five thousand dollars, and the basic wads of cash he can collect only amount to 10k apiece. Checkpoints are laid out generously enough that you’ll never have to repeat more than a minute, but this penalty makes death feel costly in spite of that. Experimenting with difficult sections is a good way to get killed, so going in for a big chunk of change is foolhardy in the grand scheme of things unless you’ve already mastered the game. Mastery doesn’t really seem possible for those without a powerful masochistic streak, either. The controls are fiddly with the best of times, and that’s using a gamepad. It’s practically unplayable with a keyboard.
It always strikes me as a little presumptuous when a game that demands intense precision is not itself precise. Par for the course with this sort of platformer, Fork Parker will die if he touches just about anything except for solid ground – penguins, icicles, snowballs, sweaters, you name it – and the hitboxes on those obstacles tend to be a little off. You don’t actually have to touch icicles to be killed by them, and even then the actual range of their invisible death aura seems to fluctuate. Fork can jump on top of enemies to bounce and reach new heights, but Holiday Profit Hike has a very exacting and not entirely accurate measure of what counts as “on top.” Should a pixel of Fork’s shoe fall below a pixel of a snowman’s head, he will promptly explode into a cloud of money. It feels as though you have to land on the space above enemies, rather than on the enemies themselves. Trying to bounce on tiny moving objects like snowballs is even more treacherous and frustrating – not so much a test of your reflexes as your patience.
The platforming is ill-refined, but it looks great in comparison to the rope and piton mechanics. The actual motion along ropes is more or less fine, but you have to make awkward hops and fiddle with the joystick in order to adjust your speed, which robs the mechanic of any sense of flow. Tossing pitons works well if you need them above or adjacent to you, but angling them downward can be a bit of a pain, and the fact that pressing down while ziplining causes Fork to drop means that it’s nearly impossible to descend effectively from the air. This would be a minor issue if it were just relegated to collecting optional cash, but late in the game you start having to make descents through tight, spike-covered passages in order to progress, and it absolutely destroys any fun you might otherwise be having. Level design for games like these needs to be tight and polished, but these poorly-thought-out segments seem to have been rushed to make a Christmas deadline.
The deformed, big-headed pixel art in the game is appealing enough. Fork has some nice animations for grabbing and scrambling up ledges and sliding on ziplines, and the enemy sprites are generally very cute and expressive, but there’s nothing here to write home about. The music is similarly perfunctory, screaming “low-budget Christmas game” with its midi bleeps and chimes. It gets irritatingly repetitive as you play, but you’ll forget it the second you quit the game.
The best word to describe Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is “finicky.” Collision detection is imprecise and inconsistent, and the controls feel overly slippery, even for a game largely about running around on ice. It’s a sweet and funny gesture, but there’s not a lot about this game to recommend save for the fact that it’s marginally festive and free, but you’d be better served buying one of the better platformers currently discounted in Steam’s holiday sale. Hopefully Dodge Roll will be able to turn out a better game in Enter the Gungeon with a bit of real money on the line.