Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
By boiling the genre down to its most fundamental mechanic - jumping - Bullet Pea is a decidedly minimalist platformer. It’s almost Divekick-like in its deconstruction. However, while its “jumps only” gameplay is intriguing in theory, in practice it inadvertently illustrates why other games don’t do this.
When a bolt of lightning causes an ordinary pea to come to life, it also turns a friendly professor into a mad scientist bent on destruction. To set things right, Bullet Pea will have to make his way back up the mountain and reverse the process. If having a cute, anthropomorphic main character in a 2D platformer wasn’t retro enough, Bullet Pea is rendered in lovably grainy pixel art. It eschews the popular 8-bit fetish for something closer resembling the more detailed and colorful visuals of early PC games. In fact, add in some typing, fractions, or any other nebulously educational elements and this could easily be something 90s kids might have gotten away with playing in elementary school.
For all its charms though, Bullet Pea's peculiar gameplay pulls surprisingly few punches. Players cannot walk, run, or do anything else but jump. Pressing the screen brings up a jump meter and releasing it at different times causes jumps of different strengths. Players can choose between high and low jumps while aiming them in different directions, so there’s a little more control than that initial description lets on. However, navigating otherwise standard levels with essentially one ability is quite challenging.
It’s not always the right kind of challenging though. The control scheme’s inherent lack of precision leads to a lot of bouncing against obstacles or missing platforms by a frustratingly small window. Fortunately, there are lots of helpful guide arrows, and most of the 15 levels are mercifully short and straightforward. Some hazards even make cool uses of the mechanic - like crumbling rock bridges, hungry plants that spit the player upward, and slippery ice patches where jumps are charged while sliding. However, the final stage, where three disparate buttons must be stepped on in a relatively small amount of time, squanders much of that goodwill with its maddening difficulty.
Players that do soldier on though can continue to master their jumps by finding the well-hidden collectibles and replaying levels in a variety of different modes. The most interesting mode, Predator, forces players to complete levels while constantly avoiding a giant, horrifying, flying bug. The game records how many jumps players use so that’s another place to improve scores, too.
As an experiment, Bullet Pea isn’t quite a complete success. But the results are promising enough to warrant a trip into its lab.