Review: Type:Rider

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“Edutainment” used to be one of those words that would send people running to the hills, at least until we developed nostalgia for things like MathBlaster and Encarta Mind Maze. It’s not even a term that’s used anymore, despite a rise in indie games that actually make good on the promise of being educational AND fun. Which brings us to Type:Rider, a physics platformer based around what really should be the most boring subject imaginable, the history of typefaces. Instead, we have a beautiful, challenging game that manages to make its topic more engaging than any textbook could ever hope to.

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Your avatar in Type:Rider is either a plucky umlaut or an alignment-challenged colon, two dots that roll along the landscape like wheels on an invisible car. I know the jump from one ball to two doesn’t sound like much innovation in the crowded physics-platformer genre, but this allows for some really clever maneuvers like cartwheel flips, wheelie jumps, and dangling under platforms. You’ll need all of these tricks to navigate across the giant letters and silhouettes that make up the beautiful, otherworldly levels. Each level is themed after a period in the history of the written word, everything from primeval script to printing presses to HTML, with gimmicks befitting the era. You’ll ski down cursive curves, float on classical notes, hop across postmodern art, and bounce on blinking cursors.

Each level has six asterisks to collect along the main path, 26 letters of the alphabet that require some platforming to nab, and a hidden ampersand (that & thingy) that’s quite a challenge to reach. The collectable symbols are a nice touch to keep you going but it’s the asterisks that really make the game, because each unlocks a short article about the history of typefaces from that period. You would think that breaking up gameplay with educational passages would ruin the flow of the game, but each is short, interesting, and well-written enough to make for a welcome interlude. I honestly knew nothing about Claude Garamont or why sans-serif fonts are called that, but I was delighted to learn within the context of the game. And even if you aren’t, the articles are entirely optional to even open.

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The actual platforming is a perfect match for a game of this nature, challenging but without ever reaching frustrating levels, and with several relaxing segments and thoughtful puzzles. The different periods are visual joys to traverse, and an generous checkpointing system makes it easy to revisit your favorite parts. There’s even a secret level in everyone’s favorite love-to-hate font that hits the perfect tone for the game. All of these elements make Type:Rider an unexpected gem from a dormant genre, and a very strong case for its return to boot.

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