Review: Canyon Capers

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If you want to make a game that’s just about collecting things, that’s fine. There are certainly quality games with simpler premises than that. But if you’re not going to go deep on gameplay, you need to go hard on the polish and the feel. A coin collecting game in this day and age needs to be the most incredible, mind-blowing coin collector in the world to make it worth your time. And that makes a pretty good segue into the mess that is Canyon Capers.

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You play Dino, a dopey little fellow with an Alfalfa part and the loudest shoes imaginable. He’s here to plod across simple levels in search of gems, coins, chests, food, or all four. The first thing you will surely notice is how impossibly ugly this game is. I can’t even try to be nice about it, because every level is a trainwreck of sprites and colors. For some reason nothing is rendered at the same resolution, so you might have a photo-realistic tiki mask sitting atop a 16-bit tuft of grass. Not even Dino and the hapless creatures you goomba-stomp (with a farting noise, no less) match. The colors are also rich and garish, clashing against each other and making it impossible to know what is foreground, background, passable, and solid.

Even if the game weren’t hideous, the absolutely tepid gameplay would drive you away after only a handful of levels. Every stage is just about collecting things, with no gimmicks or bonus stages to break up the monotony. Sometimes it’s one kind of treasure, sometimes it’s all four, sometimes it’s ticking time bombs, and sometimes it’s all optional on the way to the exit. Without exception, you will always be collecting something before reaching the exit. There are no powerups to hasten your lazy stride or let you jump higher than your normal, awkward somersault. Stomping enemies doesn’t even gain you anything besides points, because they respawn seconds later.

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That reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Canyon Capers, getting constantly hit by strangely unavoidable enemies. Taking damage makes you invincible for a few seconds but also makes you pass through enemies, so you have to stay well away until it wears off. Dying just respawns you nearby, and can absolutely spawn you inside a monster to get hit. Slow enemies are often set in caves where the ceilings are too low to jump them. And even if you come to grips with your awful foes, levels are laid out with ideal paths that make backtracking to collect missed items extremely time-consuming.

There are additional characters to unlock with different passive abilities, but they’re specific to one kind of treasure and you don’t know what kind you’re collecting until you start the level. It’s such a simple thing, but emblematic of the shortcomings which riddle Canyon Capers. The game feels like someone’s first experiment with GameMaker, slipshod designs and artless aesthetics and all. It’s absolutely beyond me to imagine anyone deriving any sort of enjoyment from this game, between its horrifying graphics and infuriating levels.

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