You Have to Win the Game – PC
Developer: Minor Key Games
Publisher: Minor Key Games
Release Date: May 6, 2012
ESRB Rating: N/A
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
You Have to Win the Game is an action platformer done up in classic retro style. Originally released with only the main campaign, it has been recently updated with a much harder difficulty mode (YOLO) and a version that allows you to play as a cat, complete with nine lives. This diamond in the rough just celebrated its second birthday, but it could be 30 instead given its 8-bit aesthetic, sound and game play.
You Have to Win the Game features ultra-simple and responsive controls. Supporting keyboard/mouse and game pad play, and with a control remapping feature for either, this title allows the player to customize every aspect of control to their liking. Since the controls are quite simple, though, it won’t be a daunting task. Your little protagonist, complete with back-turned baseball cap can move left and right, and jump up/down depending on the objects on the screen.
Graphics and animations are charmingly old-school (you know I love that). The game features the ability to use a four-color CGA palette, or an ultra-advanced EGA display with the real possibility of displaying 16 colors at a time!
You can also activate a CRT simulation of the on-screen action so it looks like you are staring at an old tube TV set, complete with convexity, the frame of the TV and screen glare.
The one thing missing from You Have to Win the Game is in-game music. Aside from a brief tune during the title sequence, and I assume some kind of fanfare when you win, only the sound of near-silence will accompany you on your journey.
Game sounds fit right in with the visual theme. 8-bit sound effects are synthesized simply and accompany your jumps, landings, and of course, deaths. Aside from that, the only sounds are the occasional ringing bell and mini-bosses spitting deadly orbs which crash against the game environment, and in the worst case, the intrepid explorer.
Speaking of death, You Have to Win the Game is full of it. Aside from environmental hazards like lakes of lava, flames, death orbs, and boiling pools, you’ll face flying bats, floating jellyfish, slithering snakes, and other enemies during your travels. By finding and ringing bells, the player creates respawn points that take you to the last bell rung when you inevitably expire.
When the player approaches an important item, the item room is preceded by a boss that spits out death in a pattern that allows little room for error. Scattered throughout the game are bags of treasure that I assume contribute to the score in some way, though the game gives no clue as to your progression other than as a percentage of the map complete.
Game play, while simple, is challenging, and you’ll quickly find yourself having to make series of perfect running/jumping moves in order to to traverse the terrain.
The game world starts with various elements that cannot be used until you unlock them by finding items linked to their utility. Other objects upgrade player abilities like wall jumping.
The game world is not huge – at least I’m assuming that the percentage of rooms discovered, which is displayed in the lower right corner of the screen, refers to the entire game and not just the first area. If there is more than one area, then I’ll stand corrected and probably end up devoting a ton of time to this title.
The Bottom Line
The simplicity of You Have to Win the Game allows any player to jump right in, and the UI customization features make it easy to customize the look of the game to the player’s liking. Likewise, the straightforward controls allow players to quickly learn their character’s limitations and concentrate on navigating the subterranean world.
That’s a good thing, as the game allows you to take divergent paths early on and the game world itself makes use of not only the horizontal, but vertical elements as well. Various columns, giant mushrooms, and blocks exist, restricting jumps in some cases. Platforms allow the player to jump or drop in relative safety. In some cases, there’s no choice but make leaps of faith to reveal the terrain below.
Aside from the disappointing lack of music, the only other complaint I have with this game is the rather sudden increase in difficulty. After managing a number of screens with little difficulty, you’ll encounter a devilishly designed set of rooms that will kill you repeatedly AND not allow you to escape their deadly embrace without successfully maneuvering through the death traps within.
Still, the obstacles aren’t insurmountable, just extremely annoying. With careful timing and a little luck, the player can continue to explore and ring a bell to escape the zone. Exercise caution, though or you’ll take the wrong path back through the maze and find yourself stuck again.
You Have to Win the Game offers substantial replay value, as its possible to win without collecting all the items, especially treasure – some of the smaller areas are difficult to access and I have yet to find my way into several – and if you do extract every bit of fun in Normal mode, there’s always Cat mode that gives you only nine deaths before you must restart, and YOLO that restarts the game after every death. Good luck finishing in that mode – my suggestion would be to get yourself some head and tummy provisions and settle in – you’re going to be a while.
Although You Have to Win the Game is not entirely novel (the developer includes an extensive “About” feature that references numerous games that influenced the design), it does offer an authentic vintage vibe, solid controls, an engaging world and ample challenge.
The only faults, in my opinion are in the lack of music and the shift from first to fourth gear with respect to difficulty.
Some of the best things about this game are that any PC will run it, even systems ten years old or more, and that it’s available now on Steam for the enticing price of FREE. If you’re a fan of platformers, and are attracted by the idea of a modern game with an antique look and feel, give You Have to Win the Game a try. You really can’t go wrong; it’s free, takes about a minute to download, and will reward you with hours of retro fun.
8 out of 10
I’m especially interested to know what some of the other Baconeers think about this one – I know we have numerous fans of old platform games…
As always, please post questions or comments to this page or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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