Labelling a game as being aimed at hardcore players always brings with it implications of exclusion or inaccessibility. Suffice to say then, that Electronic Super Joy is very challenging and may cause bouts of swearing, controller throwing rage and irrational outbursts in both skilled players and novice platforming enthusiasts. Given that these things may not be what everyone is looking for when they boot up their Xbox, the gameplay has to be extra special to keep players hooked through the more infuriating difficulty spikes. Luckily, this pixelated platformer more than delivers in terms of fun and style.
You play as an unnamed hero who, having already lost his eye, an arm and both legs in various wars and fights, now faces the indignity of having his butt stolen by a villainous Groove Wizard! Oh, the humanity! Buttless and unafraid, you head out into a technicolour platforming nightmare world, underscored by glorious dance music in the attempt to take back what is rightfully yours.
It all seems very simple at the start, as you encounter the local wildlife and NPCs who introduce you to the game mechanics one by one while the techno soundtrack builds in the background. At first you'll just be navigating over simple platforms, making short jumps and taking out enemies with your Smash attack – a "death from above" ground pound that crushes all foes in its wake. But soon, you'll be using worm holes, altered gravity and sticky walls to fling yourself around levels in new, interesting and occasionally terrifying ways.
The challenge ramps up quickly as Electronic Super Joy demands perfection from its players and doesn't leave much margin for error. Jumps must be expertly timed and the addition of Buttless-wonder seeking missiles will most likely be the first time you feel the anger building in your gullet as you are repeatedly killed by these rage-inducing triangular death machines. Levels are actually quite short, with checkpoints littered throughout to ease the pain of the increasing numbers of restarts. Don't let the size of the levels fool you however, as each is fiendishly crafted to put your skills to the test and you'll find yourself failing repeatedly as you learn each stage's nuances. Skills are added and taken away throughout the game to keep things interesting and make you have to relearn your reflexes, which is particularly upsetting when you are cruelly stripped of your double jump and watch your hero fall into the abyss.
Electronic Super Joy walks its difficulty line very carefully. You'll die a lot and there's a quick restart available to save you the indignity of watching your death when you become aware of its inevitability. What's excellent is that it never feels unfair. Every time you fail it's your fault, it's your lack of skill, or the fact that you didn't learn the level yet. This is the true genius of the level design as you'll keep going back for more as you just know you could do better. This is not necessarily the case in all the game modes though, specifically the Micro-Hell campaign, which will defeat all but the most skilled players with its ultra-hard levels demanding almost superhuman precision. Those looking for a moderate challenge should instead consider 'No CheckPoint' mode in the regular game or trying their hand at 'Infinite Love' mode in which you try to complete as many levels in a row as possible without dying.
Visually, we love the pulsing, fluorescent backgrounds although it's clear that they won't be to everyone's taste. Each area features one main colour (often bright pinks, blues and oranges) littered with stars, beams and sparkles. The backgrounds are constantly moving in time with the music, earning the game its seizure warning. To contrast these ultra-bright images, the levels and characters themselves are portrayed in plain black pixels, simplistic and stark enough to stand out against the madness behind. NPCs stand in place, nodding along to the beat and commenting on your progress or providing gameplay tips.
EnV's electro soundtrack elevates Electronic Super Joy from challenging kooky platformer to a full body and mind experience. You'll find yourself nodding along and appreciating the way the visuals compliment the music as the backgrounds pulse, spin and throb along to the beat. The tracks change to complement each area and persist through your (undoubtedly multiple) deaths, soothing the pain and frustration that comes with repeated failure and encouraging the player to try just one more time as they chill out to the music. The overly sexualised 'OH YEAH' that sounds whenever a checkpoint is activated seems a little out of place at times, but that's really the only criticism that one can throw at the sound, which is otherwise excellent throughout.
It's this combination of sound, visual and gameplay that makes Electronic Super Joy a very special experience. Everything ties together to make each level beautiful or challenging or hilarious (or sometimes all three). It doesn't take itself too seriously which takes the sting out of the multiple defeats. After all, who could be mad when they're fighting the Pope in a spaceship while listening to techno? The difficulty adds to the enjoyment rather than damaging it and it lends itself well to those who want to improve on their previous performance or get competitive on the leaderboards and it's rewarding when you finally figure out how to beat a level and convince your fingers and thumbs to co-operate and make that happen.
Electronic Super Joy is a delight. Its simple visuals are elevated by a soundtrack so perfectly in tune with the experience that it turns a punishingly difficult platformer into a trance-like experience and will soothe the pain of your multiple deaths. It will defeat you over and over again, but manages never to feel unfair or to set goals that are unachievable. If you like the sound of a challenging platformer that will push you to the edge of frustration when things are going badly but make you feel like a gaming god when things are going well, Electronic Super Joy may be just the game you're looking for.