Upon completing 140, I had no idea that the title actually came out 3 years ago. The reason I’m telling you this, is because the first thought that entered my mind when starting the game was: “Finally, somebody is doing something different”. Well, it seems that somebody was doing something this unique as far back as 2013. Cut to 2016, and 140 has just released on current-gen consoles, and its concept still feels enjoyable, fresh, and unique three years later. Developer Jeppe Carlsen has created a vibrant, mesmerizing and eclectic title that is a bit too short for my liking, yet still worth the time of those looking for something different.
Plot? There is none, except to say that you are playing as a morphing geometric shape tasked with completing three levels of increasing difficulty. At the start of each section, you have to find a circular icon in order to insert it inside a record-like apparatus to start the “rhythm part” of each level. Obstacles literally move to the beat of their own drum, and it’s up to you to get said rhythm in your head in order to traverse the environment, and make it to the end.
If that all sounds confusing, well, that’s because I am not really sure how to describe anything in this game. 140 uses an abstract art style to such a high degree that I can only make guesses as to what any elements, or objects are supposed to represent. As bizarre as the game looks, if you swapped all of the assets with some that are more realistic, this would look like a pretty basic, solid platformer. To a certain degree it would even play like one too: the player traverses platforms, jumps gaps, etc. Think of the appearing/disappearing platforms in the Mega Man series, and you’ll have a good idea of what the platforming is like for much of the game. What separates this game from a normal puzzler/platformer is its unique use of rhythm as a driving force in every level. As a result, those disappearing platforms I mentioned above: You can absolutely count on them appearing during a certain beat. Every time. As a musician, I found this really intuitive and satisfying.
As it turns out, having a natural sense of rhythm can be your friend in 140. This is the first platformer that I have ever played where having a background in music might actually make the game easier. Being a musician, I found it easier to adapt to changes in rhythm very quickly, and I rarely had any trouble with the game’s puzzles. Interestingly, I handed the game over to a more right-brained member of my household, and he immediately ran into issues. He spent about 20 minutes trying to drop down through a gap with a very narrow opening. It is actually hard to comment on the difficulty of 140, as having an ear for music may make your experience a bit easier.
Not to say that I completely breezed through the game. There are certainly moments in 140 that will trip up anyone, specifically the boss fights. The final boss, in particular, will have players screaming with a weird mixture of joy and rage. The boss fights are also where the use of rhythm is at its most clever. Weapons, given during boss fights, will only fire during certain beats of the music. The first boss, for example, only allows you a single well-placed shot at certain points in the music. This lends itself to some interesting strategy, and turns out to be a feature that I never knew that I wanted to see more of.
Visually, the game is stunning. Striking visuals flash in front of your eyes at breakneck speeds, and in the background, equalizers are bouncing up and down at all times to the beat. Each level has a different color scheme, but the music mostly maintains a Synth/ Electronic feel throughout, although the music switched to reggae at one point as the colors of the level took on a red, green and yellow hue. The game uses color and music to instruct players. No music means the level hasn’t really started yet. Rhythm and motion means challenge, while lack of color can indicate safety. Useful tools in a game with no text to speak of.
140 is a fun ride, but also a very short one, and ends abruptly. Upon beating a very tricky boss, I had no idea that it was actually the last boss. The game will only last an hour for most players, maybe longer if they get stuck frequently. Even then, I can’t see the game lasting longer than two hours maximum. At $5, the game barely justifies its price point. For a game of this length? I would think $3 is a more appropriate asking price, however, the game could feel like a bargain for those looking for repeated playthroughs and are gluttons for punishment.
Lastly, and I can’t believe there isn’t some sort of disclaimer prior to playing, this game has a lot of bright, flashing colors that may be dangerous for someone with epilepsy to play. No joke: I was getting headaches during some of the more flash-heavy moments. Proceed with caution.
Small caveats aside, 140 is a charming game. Every time I failed, the rhythm would urge me to press on. I found myself bobbing my head while I played. It can feel like a celebration in that way. With beautiful visuals, tight controls, and a great concept, 140 is a game worth taking for a spin.
+Unique spin on the platformer genre
-Ends as soon as it starts
-Flashing visuals can be jarring
140 is a hypnotic game that puts a unique twist on the traditional platformer genre. The game is a bit on the short side, and can occasionally be overwhelming visually. However, tight controls, great music, and addictive gameplay more than make up for it’s shortcomings.