November 12, 2012 10:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in The Harvest Bundle currently running on IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
Studio Bean's BasketBelle is an experimental 2D basketball-based platformer. That's quite an offbeat description for a short little game, but one that remains quite apt. However intriguing the concept of a basketball platformer is, I think the key word to focus on is experimental as that is what makes this game such an incredible bit of art. It's an experiment in narrative, in structure, in mechanics and in visuals, but most of all it's an experiment that pays off.
In BasketBelle, you play as a purple boy who really digs basketball, practising all the time to fly as well as his dad. Being a good brother as well as an excellent dunker, he also makes time to hang out with his adorable sister, Belle. Unfortunately, Belle goes missing and a gang of amorphous purple blobs seem to be the culprits, so the boy sets off to track her down and thoroughly school the blobby antagonists in one on one. The missing sister narrative is becoming a bit of a common indie trope these days, but BasketBelle's experimental nature saves the day through terrific art direction and nicely varied mechanics.
In terms of style, BasketBelle nails everything. The soundtrack is excellent and the artistry is top notch, but I particularly enjoyed the little things. One example is the way your character dribbles in time to the dynamic and ever changing soundtrack, splashing purple onto the backdrop. Another small point is the excellent commitment to cinematography in cutscenes, using tons of neat angles and animation over static in game dialog. Then you come to the gameplay, which sets up basic move, fake, slide, jump and shoot mechanics, then retools and refits them on the fly. Each chapter offers a completely new take that still comes back to scoring points. In one section, you navigate though a traditional puzzle platformer segment many developers would spin into a full game. In the next, you're flying through the air dodging debris on your way up the Eiffel Tower. Throughout all this, the abstracted narrative exists not to make sense of the manic and epic scope, instead focusing on telling a heartwarming love story about sibling relationships.
As far as quasi-art indie games go, BasketBelle is a brilliant success. By substituting structure with commitment to variety, you can tell the developer didn't take the easy way out for anything. There's a ton of care inserted into every aspect of the game, making it one of the best ways to enjoy forty-five minutes or so of terrific and creative game design.
[Mutant Mudds, Spirits, Avernum: The Great Trials Trilogy, Pineapple Smash Crew, and BasketBelle are available now in the Harvest Bundle at Indie Royale.]