October 15, 2013 12:30 AM | Paul Hack
Alien Cortex, the debut release from Nice Penguins, is a short, retro-flavored plaformer with compelling gameplay, sharp level design, and austere visuals. It succeeds at creating a tense and moody atmosphere with an old-school difficulty and spare, suggestive graphics done in plain white on black.
You control an alien who resembles an eyeball atop a pair of legs. You can use the arrow keys to run and jump, and the spacebar to perform actions like entering doors or operating ancient machinery. After drifting in a disabled spaceship for who knows how long, you are somehow taken aboard what seems to be a much bigger ship.
There's no one around, but you recognize writing in your language etched on the walls. You make your way to what turns out to be a hub, with several exits leading away to different areas. Above each doorway is inscribed a single word that describes the theme of the challenge beyond. For example, "Dexterity" tests your platforming skills, while "Intelligence" requires you to solve puzzles. If you make it through a challenge, you will be rewarded with one of 4 keys to open the door to the final challenge.
The difficulty level in Alien Cortex is mainly due to the strict limit of 3 lives; after that, you have to start over from the beginning. Each challenge in itself is not terribly taxing (after you know what to expect), but surviving them all on 3 lives is tough--and quite satisfying.
You can download Alien Cortex for Windows, Mac, or Linux, or play it in your browser. Alien Cortex was entered in the Ludum Dare October Challenge to make at least $1 on a game, and you can make a donation on the developer's website if you are so inclined.
Note: You can skip the intro with Esc (but watch it once, at least).