Review: Sling Ming

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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect

There’s a peculiar subset of puzzlers and platformers that task you with moving a person or object from one place to another without actually controlling them directly. It’s a well that developers seem to come back to every now and then without realizing that to some folks, that well is poisoned. Lack of direct control can be an intensely frustrating experience if the intermediary systems aren’t responsive or the challenge isn’t balanced for it. I can’t think of many games that do it well besides Kirby’s Canvas Curse, and while I’ll admit Sling Ming makes a good showing it still rolls off into the deep end of the challenge pool. If not for the gorgeous graphics and creative mechanics I’d say give this one a pass, but for once the experience might just be worth the hassle.

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The planet Topius is wracked by constant earthquakes, and Princess Ming has had enough. When a fissure opens up in her palace she defiantly leaps in to investigate, and finds a contraption that hooks her up to a tube network called the Oxylane. Ages ago the air on Topius was too toxic to breathe, so everyone hazmat-suited up and plugged themselves in to this people-moving machine. Ming discovers she can use it to explore, and in doing so finds a sealed door deep underground that’s locked by the three crown jewels, scattered on different planets. With the earthquakes growing worse, Ming embarks on a planet-hopping quest to retrieve the gems and get to the bottom of this well-shaken mess.

Despite some snappy writing for Ming and her associates, it’s the Oxylane that steals the show here. It’s a terribly unique idea for a puzzle system, as the only way to move Ming is to click on nodes to move her tether along the track. You can click a node when the tether’s stopped to make Ming choke up on her rope, and as the game progresses you get new mechanics to play with like speed sections and picking up objects that give you more momentum. What looked to me like a simple, one-trick system proved to be more detailed and involved than I ever expected.

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And in truth, that’s kinda the problem. Your first few levels will have you snapping nodes together to bridge gaps, swinging Ming out around outcroppings to proceed, and tilting furiously at coins just out of reach. But right from the first planet you’ll start running into challenges where you have to time swings past spikes or dodge pacing instant-death enemies. Mastering the touchy physics of the Oxylane is not optional here, as you’ll start learning key swing techniques right from the start of the second planet. It’s fine while the challenge stays reasonable but that quickly ceases to be the case, forcing you to hover carefully between lava geysers and time out swings over rows of deadly monsters.

Even on the newly-added Normal difficulty, the techniques needed to get Ming where she’s going will require boatloads of effort. And I still think it’s worth it, because Ming’s worlds are vibrant and beautiful, and the challenges tax your brain in the best ways. It’s just that you’re going to hit roadblocks and you’re going to hit them hard, and your patience with the lack of direct control is going to determine just how okay you are with that. There are dozens of levels and plenty of challenges for each to test your puzzling skills for at least two to three hours, so if slinging Ming around sounds like a good time, you might want to give this one a gander.

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