When young Mike Altman penned the now famous refrain, "suicide is painless," it's very probable that he had absolutely no idea just how wrong he was. To be fair to the then wunderkind song writer, though, this was because he wrote the lyrics to the MASH theme song forty years before he would have the chance to play the challenging platformer, Quietus, by Connor Ullmann.
In this dark test of platforming skills, you play the role of a man no longer willing to bear the woes and hardships of waking life. No sooner are we introduced to our protagonist do we find that he has danced the hemp fandango, fleeing the land of the living hoping for a taste of respite. What he is greeted with instead is the forever grinning face of the Grim Reaper and a curious proposition: let life remain extinguished or brave the perils of Hell. Should you make it out the other side unscathed, your life will be restored, this time with the measure of happiness lacking in your previous attempt.
To navigate your way around the underworld you'll need only your [arrow] keys to run and jump. At any time you can press [R] to return to the level select screen, and once you're there you can clear your progress with [C]. Finally, you can use the [space] bar to forward through cut scenes and cut short the death sequence that you will see a lot. All you have to do is guide your little skeleton man down to the open pit at the bottom of the level.
Sound simple? That's only because I haven't gotten to the bit with the pixel perfect jumps, the lava monsters, the wall worms, the ghosts, spikes, the little red demons that chase you, the swinging spiked balls, the white chomping monsters and the little green guys that sneak around and send you soaring upward (usually into a waiting trap of some sort) if you unwittingly land on them. Those things might complicate matters a little bit. No, all things considered, Hamlet's metaphor of, "slings and arrows," might have benefited just a bit from the addition of giant lava lake worm monsters, and our Mr. Altman may have been better informed because of it.
Analysis: Quietus is the kind of game that platformer enthusiasts live on. Developer Time uses his morbid subject matter to cast you into the darkest pits of hell both literarily and physically, and it's a blast.
The controls are responsive, neither particularly tight nor loose but instead a happy medium between the two. Hit detection is for the most part very accurate; it took getting stuck on a level and trying many times before I detected just a little bit of give, and that was actually in the player's favor. Also sometimes the game can be a little bit too generous when you get close to the goal (though I'm sure most the time you'll be thinking the game isn't being generous enough). My one peeve from a technical standpoint is that Quietus does not provide an alternate jump button. For puzzle platformers and less punishing platformers using the up arrow is fine, but when it comes to skill and reflex titles, being able to comfortably use both hands is a must.
Level design is actually pretty nice and gives what is to me one of the game's neatest little quirks. That being that the game looks and feels much harder than it actually is. Jumping has to be precise and the timing can be tricky but for the more skilled player you may find yourself thinking, 'Wow, that wasn't quite as hard as I thought it would be'. Level composition scores another victory in that you are frequently introduced to new obstacles and traps, keeping the game fresh and delivering some nice "oh wow" moments. And while I say the game is not as hard as it looks, don't let that fool you. It definitely throws some serious heat at you, especially once you get to the late twenties among the forty levels. And just as Meat Boy had the carefully placed bandages and MoneySeize had the ultra hard coins tucked away in bonus stages, those looking for serious bragging rights have the option of going after precariously placed treasure chests.
This quality and variety of level design and innovation helps disguise the fact that aesthetically Quietus gets just a little bit stale. I appreciate the style, don't get me wrong. I have a hard time saying no to big, blocky pixels, and one can definitely see some influence from the Knytt games. But while I appreciate the style and like how Quietus dances a fine line between cute and foreboding, the visual monotony starts to drag. The background never changes, and there's no music, leaving a scant few sound effects as the only aural stimulation in the game. More eye and ear candy isn't exactly necessary, per se, but would have been appreciated.
While simplicity adds to Quietus's charm, it also results in a design flaw or two. Perhaps one of the worst transgressions is how difficult it is to distinguish between spikes and the rest of the gray fuzz that lines most of the surfaces you come in contact with. Speckles of red, for instance, could have gone a long way to alleviate confusion.
On the whole, Quietus offers up an excellent platforming experience for fans of the genre ranging from all skill types. With a comparably shallow learning curve, the first dozen or so levels do an outstanding job of offering up well paced action and a sense of achieving the impossible, while those craving a real challenge shouldn't be disappointed by later levels which dish out some challenges that require precision timing and pixel perfect placement. It may not be the greatest platformer out there, but it's ambitious, well-built, and most importantly, fun... so long as you don't mind dying over, and over, and over again, of course.