In all my days of playing games, I’ve never played anything quite like Meanders, and I had to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by it. It hit Steam in early February and I’ve been having a blast with it on and off since its initial release.
It bears some small resemblance to a number of other games, like Pinball, and Portal 2, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen the various concepts collected together quite like this.
The game is set in a series of 40 gravity-defying levels set in the middle of a shallow ocean, surrounded by tall distant pillars. The aim of the level is to walk through the ‘end gate’, a task which is hampered by inaccessibility due to the layout of the level, or by a cage which needs to be unlocked.
In each level, there is a pedestal with a ball. Walking up to the pedestal allows you to pick the ball up, and you can then use it to pop balloons and crystals, play Quiddich and various other tasks which the game teaches you as you play.
Sometimes getting the ball is half of the problem, and you need to perform some leaping acrobatics to secure it. All of the levels follow the same logic, with various actions unlocking various areas or items. It doesn’t take long to work out the ‘knack’ to solve a level once you know the logic.
What’s in a name?
The game seems to get its name from the way that the game bifurcates around level 10. You can choose a path filled with cannons into which you can climb, to fire yourself daredevil-style across the level, or a path filled with giant trampoline crystals, which you can use to bounce around.
As you play the levels, you can meander back and forth between the two streams, playing them in whatever order you like.
Each of the levels can be completed in between a minute to ten minutes, depending on your skill with a mouse and keyboard. It’s a first-person platformer, so you need good hand-eye coordination and be used to playing WASD+mouse to move about.
The levels are all very well designed, and offer some fun bouncy/ballistic flying action. They are all varied, so while learning new skills is crucial, most levels require you to use your skills in a different way to solve them, so being adaptable and trying new strategies is the key.
As the levels continue, the design becomes more and more complex, and the last few levels are as complex as they are impressive: they unfold and refold themselves by your actions, allowing you to scale to great heights, and enjoy the dizzying view below.
Although the game is completely different to anything else I’ve played, it did remind me of the puzzling aspects of Portal 2. The game even features a little nod to that other game, as well as a nod to No Man’s Sky.
For a low-price indie puzzler, there’s a huge amount to do in Meanders. The game features some hidden pieces which you can use to pick up a special ending. Finding the piece is pretty easy once you know what to look for, and the ending is fun and enigmatic. The ending even features a special alternate ending if you’re creative.
Once unlocked, there are other game modes you can play to make the came more interesting. No Meander’s Sky mode, for instance, removes the ball and your ability to jump, instead replacing them with a gun that can be recharged at the pedestal and a backpack.
The game also features badges for completing the levels with certain additional difficulties switched on. At the moment the only one that’s enabled is one where you cannot touch the water. Others will be enabled as time goes by, the developer has committed to adding more content along these lines.
As you start playing, the game invites you to tell it how you would like it to interact with you. I chose “take the mickey out of me”, which resulted in some funny lines of dialog in a few levels when I took a few too many tries to complete a puzzle.
Considering that the levels are all quite fun, and very quick to complete once you know how to do them, the unlockable game modes do add a certain amount of replayability, since it can be interesting to see how they change the flavour of the levels.
Each time you complete the game you get to choose one of the new modes to unlock, and you can then play through again using it.
The level graphics are nice and simple: mainly using highly metallic substances, mixed with ceramic-like surfaces and stone. The objects are all polygonal geometric shapes, or cylinders, which gives the game a ‘platformy’ feel.
Teleport rings scattered about also lend a platformy feel, and each level is scattered with dozens of ‘convenience’ teleporters so that if you do fall off a ledge, it takes but a few seconds to get back to the start.
The levels are surrounded by an undulating ocean, in a world that varies by day and night, as the sun and move scoot across the heavens over you.
The visuals are clean, fun, and retro/futuristic and very reminiscent of a pinball table. In fact, some of the levels even feel like you’re a ball being bounced around a giant 3d-pinball table.
To add to the graphics fun, the game features a set of alternate graphical modes which you can experiment with.
The game features a really fun sound track that matches the “pinball-like” feel of the levels. With the music turned on, leaping spinning and firing balls while in the air takes on a madcap frenetic pace. Turning the music off changes the feel of the game into something much more casual and sedate.
all the bouncers, cannons, active surfaces and so on have their own unique sounds which make the gameplay all the more exciting as you leap from column to column high above the water, and then throw yourself at a giant conveyor belt which whizzes you high in the air.
The game as released onto Steam is fully completable in its current form, however there are a couple of bugs scattered around. I notified the developer of one, and it was resolved within 24 hours.
The game is under active expansion also, and there are exciting and interesting updates with new content, and new visuals being added all the time, which are invariably generating a few issues here and there, so the developer is actively seeking people to play the game and report any issues they find.
Most recently added are time attack challenges for each level: complete it in the shortest possible time, with different categories for whether you’re playing the level “vanilla”, or with mods (aka Atomic Stuff). The developer hints that there’s more coming soon.
One of the bugs I encountered lost all my progress (about 60% of the game). Upon reporting it, the developer offered to send me a replacement save-game at the point where I lost my progress! that’s a lot better support than I’ve come across with some other games where it’s a chore just to get the developer to respond. Constant development and constant developer engagement like this is what sets good indie games apart from bad ones, and should serve as a lesson to other aspiring indie devs, support your stuff!
For just £4 ($5), Meanders offers between 3 and 15 hours of gameplay depending on how many times you play through to unlock achievements and try out all the different game modes. That’s a pretty good amount of bang for your buck.
The game is bright, bold, vibrant, fun, challenging and exciting. It has a lot of heart, and the developer has put in a tonne of little features and bits and bobs to play with, that makes it more than just a simple puzzler. It’s also under active expansion all the time, and new stuff is arriving!
I had an absolute blast playing through it. If you like puzzle platformers, enjoyed Portal and are partial to some loud, bouncy fun, Meanders might be right up your street. This amount of puzzling 3d fast-paced fun, for this price goes beyond being a bargain!