Difficult games come in three flavors: design, happenstance and accident. When you get a puzzle game that purposely uses obscure ideas or minute details to successfully find an answer, that’s design. When you get a platform that’s hard to reach because of a hail of bullets at the same time, it’s happenstance. And when you keep glitching through the wall and into a fireball because someone moved up the publishing date a month (and I don’t want to hear any excuses, Trevor), that’s accident. Each has their own hall of fame entries and their own fans, as a result. If a game wasn’t at least a bit hard, then people would complete them in seconds and no one would care. But you gotta strike a balance so that it’s not unfair. Is your title playable for everyone with skill and time, or are only the most dedicated trial and error runners going to love your game? With that, I present Slime-San, who almost falls off that razor’s edge several times.
The plot for Slime-San is cute and pretty minimal, but important to understanding and unlocking different aspects of the game. You, an adorable slime, have been swallowed by a colossal worm because you probably are delicious, or at least look delicious. I have no idea how long this worm is, but it’s big enough to house one hundred freaking levels with four rooms per level. Your job is to get through the worm and find a way back out of its…mouth? Butt? Exit door? You need to outrun his stomach acid is the point, and there’s a lot to find along the way. Turns out, when a worm is long enough to swallow everything in creation, he scoops up a lot of other things, like friendly and not-so-friendly creatures who want to either hinder or help you find your way out. It’s a pretty simple synopsis for what ultimately serves as the backdrop to the main event: the insane gameplay.
Alright, so, Slime-San has a lot of inspirations to pull from, but one of the most obvious is a little title called Super Meat Boy. Ever since Team Meat set the gold standard for pain and speed, a lot of platformers have spawned up that want to try and capture some of that majesty in one form or another. Slime-San, to it’s credit, is not nearly as clean cut as a meat clone, and I deeply, deeply appreciate that. The mechanics have a lot to do with both the success and pitfalls that come to Slime-San, and part of both sides comes with the complexity. Naturally, our little Slime has the ability to jump and run, but it’s never that clean cut. By sticking to the walls, you can climb up and down, control your descent and create a series of mini jumps that effectively give you more range and angles with which to work. Slimey moves slowly on most surfaces, but he will slide when you’ve got momentum behind you, and he’ll slide even further on icy surfaces (but won’t slide at all on sticky ones).When you get into a new room, you’ll have only a couple of seconds to really figure out what you’re dealing with before the stomach acid starts flooding in. It can be vexing, to say the least, and running into patches of sticky or deadly flooring at random intervals can undo all the hard work up to that point.
You also will be using your shoulder buttons a lot, as they control Slime-San’s two main abilities. For one, you have the ability to dash, which functions as a good multipurpose tool. It breaks down some walls, it moves you faster on the floor, you can dash straight up for a “double jump,” you can use it in mid fall as a save…it’s amazing what you can do with a simple command. Once you really get the hang of things, you’ll figure out how to interrupt your dash with a jump to make short, directional bursts that add to the layers of strategy.
The other shoulder button is your “slime time” ability, as I’ve dubbed it. When held, Slime-San starts to move in slow motion, as well as everything else in the room (traps, enemies, and the stomach acid). This ability also allows you to phase through green platforms and walls, so it’s impossible to avoid using it, and, in all honestly, it’s a brilliant piece to add to the game. Once things start moving slower, it does become infinitely easier to dodge and make certain jumps, but the ability has one major caveat: time. The timer on the level runs at the same speed consistently, so this is a double-edged sword for speedrunners. Allow yourself the chance to make the grade, but do so at the cost of doing it slowly. It’s almost mandatory training wheels that will allow new players to complete truly difficult levels, and veterans will figure out the absolute minimal number of presses they can use to progress.
The issue with these controls is that a majority of the movements meant to get to a certain point in a level need to be systematic, slightly complex and absolutely unforgivable. Each level also has three apples, and one will appear in three of the four rooms created for the level. The apples are mostly point and bragging rights, but they’re also critical in order to unlock certain aspects of the game. There are different characters, for instance, that you can play through the game with, as well as frames to make the game have a cool, retro appeal (Slime-San naturally is just boxed up like an arcade cabinet screen). Not to mention the levels have “trophy times,” which ask the played to accomplish all four levels in a set amount of time that often requires nearly no deaths. If you have left/right confusion like I sometimes do, a majority of these trophies may be out of reach. Getting down the perfect timing to dash, jump, slow-mo and then jump again can be nailbiting, and, once you let go of trying to hit the perfect time, you also can enjoy the game a lot more. But then you’re inherently ignoring one of the appeals and targets of the game, so is that really the best approach?
Additionally, there are boss battles at the end of each stage, but the boss battles are almost a relief after everything else needed to get to the end of the world. Since Slime-San has no combat skills to speak of, you need to use the environment around you (usually stomach acid) to find a way to defeat the boss. There’s no apples to speak of and, yes, there’s a trophy timer, but this is also inherently much easier to get once you figure out how to damage your king baddie. It’s almost too easy to play once at your own speed, discover the technique needed IN FULL (most bosses will change up the game halfway through) and then restart to complete with no damage.
As for the difficulty factor of Slime-San, players who are discouraged by the early acceleration of the game need not worry. Slime-San, for better or for worse, plateaus pretty quickly in the “hard gameplay” department. That is to say, I feel there is an exponential increase in the first ten or so levels, but then things are at a very slow build from there on in. I was hoping there would be a step down between worlds, but that simply isn’t the case. You have a few stages to get your bearing and then it’s balls-to-the wall, with the occasional easy stage injected to help you catch your breath and basically get a pity apple from the game.
If you can successfully navigate every single room, there is a NewGame+ that is, surprise, more difficult and has greater challenges. To this I give a polite but firm “No thank you.” This is where the gaming masochists will revel and rejoice, because even the first few stages are a bucket of pain that I was not willing to dunk myself into any longer. It took me close to 20 collective hours to do the first 400 rooms, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my week in order to do it all again. I think I missed work and possibly several natural phenomenons in the process of getting through the first half of Slime-San, I’m afraid I’ll miss a government overthrow in some country if I dive back in.
Slime-San describes itself as a five bit game, which makes sense, given the colors. If you don’t like the psuedo sickly green that many of us encountered on monochromatic monitors in the 80s and early 90s, then you may want to avoid this game. Slime-San is relentlessly green, with a fair amount of red (danger) and white (neutral) mixed in. The sprites and worlds are all well designed, for sure, and it’s not like I ever lost track of Slime-San or his family members on the stage. It’s just GREEN.
Speaking of losing Slime-San, as this is a Nintendo Switch review, I highly, highly recommend playing up on the screen and not in handheld mode. The rooms are all pretty large, and Slime-San likes to utilize as much real estate as possible in presenting where you’re playing next. Your slime is really quite small and the pixel-perfect touchdowns that are needed for later worlds seem ridiculously hard to nail when you’re in portable mode. There’s the option to zoom in on your Slime so that you can see where you’re moving better, but this immediately hamstrings you from knowing what’s coming next. The zoom feature is great when you’ve already memorized most of the layout and have faith you remember the trap patterns, but, for the most part, it’s an avoidable nuisance that I might accidentally trigger (Y button) if I’m frustrated that I keep landing in acid.
There’s a strong amount of variety in characters as well. Besides the slime family, the number of birds, mice, other slimes and debris that the worm decorates his stomach with is impressive. The fact that there’s enough room in the worm that a shanty town has been set up for the purpose of shopping disturbs me greatly, but not enough to stop going there to see what other backgrounds I can buy. Being able to change up to other characters for playthrough is not only visually pleasing, but it shows how dynamic the game is and how each level can be accomplished by characters who may lack certain abilities, such as jumping.
Slime-San, unfortunately, goes a little too far into the chiptune zone and comes out sounding incredibly tinny with the music at times. The sound effects were great, don’t get me wrong, but it seems the main background music ended up on the high end of the spectrum. This means that it’s still pretty well crafted, but don’t turn up the volume even to standard volume for fear of the notes just piercing through your cranium. It’s a shame because, like everything else in the game, this was crafted with a lot of love and forethought, and it straight up hurt my head at times. I’m sorry, Fabraz, maybe I’m just a bit sensitive.
There will always be contenders for the throne. There’s a reason games are often called “The Dark Souls of” something. Slime-San is making a genuine attempt to become the new baseline for an inconspicuous title that is insanely hard but also satisfying. It’s hard to say how well this execution is, though. When everything comes down to precise moments and technicality, it then starts to close doors to certain members of the audience and really bottleneck potential replays. A lot of the style and modes might only call out to folk who enjoy the twitch gaming style and, knowing that slowing things down removes the chances for trophies, it does alienate more casual players. Having said that, this is a huge investment on the Switch for players looking for some unforgiving platform action that is still fairly new and fresh. I think there’s room for both types to enjoy Slime-San, the relaxed and the dedicated, but only the latter will really gain the satisfaction that comes from a tiny blob of goo making you smash your controller in frustration. Anger management survivors beware, the Slime is not what it seems!