Gish is an old-school platformer. And I’m not just saying that because it’s nearly 10 years old at this point. Like some old-school platformers, it’s practically medieval when you hit its massive difficulty wall. Which is too bad, because until that point, it’s quite enjoyable.
In Gish, you are a ball of tar, and you must rescue your girlfriend who has been taken deep within the massive sewer of Dross. The plot bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Super Meat Boy, which makes sense when you realize that both were co-created by Edmund McMillen.
Gish’s game mechanics revolve around physics, and the unique abilities you have (due to being a sentient ball of tar). There are four abilities you can use in the game: stickiness, which allows you to stick to and move on most walls and other objects; heaviness, allowing you to crush enemies and breakable obstacles; slickness, which allows you to slip through passages you wouldn’t normally be able to; and jumping. We’ll get to jumping in just a minute.
These abilities, combined with the physics in the game, makes for some interesting gameplay and challenges. There are some creative things you can do with the abilities, particularly the sticky ability. The problem is that none of it is particularly easy to control.
Yeah, you’ll be seeing this a lot
Like most platformers, Gish is best played with a controller. Despite it being so old, it does have controller support, and it can even use the Xbox 360 controller natively on Windows. You do have to enable it in the settings first.
One note of caution: by default, jumping is mapped to the B button instead of the A button, and the menu is mapped to something that isn’t the start button. You may want to change those before playing.
I like control in my games. I never liked the Sonic games because I never felt in control of that darn hedgehog. I get through the early parts of racing games as quickly as I can so I can get a car that handles just the way I like. So my main issue with this game is that I never felt like I was in control of Gish. Even after learning about my different abilities, I never felt like I was totally in control of them, or even my character’s movement. The best example of this is jumping. To jump, you have to press down to compress yourself and then the jump button. Then get into a rhythm of compressing and jumping as you land to jump higher and higher. It’s tedious and if you break the chain at all you lose your momentum. I understand why they did this: you essentially are a ball of fluid, and they tried to extend those kinds of physics to the jumping mechanic. The problem is that it takes a lot of the fun out of the game.
In the end, I would be able to live with the controls, but the other major issue with the game is the incredibly daunting difficulty wall. The first two “worlds” (levels 1-# through 2-#) are fine and, while there are some tricky bits, are totally doable, the moment you enter the third world that all goes out the window. That’s when they introduce lava, which basically instantly kills you when you touch it. I went from using one continue after running out of lives in the first two worlds, to using a continue on every single level of world three. Eventually I just had to give up: there was no way I was going to be able to finish this game.
Platforming Experts Inquire Within
Only masochists and platformer experts need apply to this game. If you don’t like your platformers as tough as nails (in some cases, unnecessarily so), this is not the game for you. It has some great ideas, but ultimately, it’s just not as fun as other platforms, even more difficult ones like Super Meat Boy. It’s clear that Edmund learned some lessons from this game that got applied to Super Meat Boy, but Gish is mostly skippable.
Where to buy:
- Amazon.com (cheaper, but doesn’t unlock on Steam)
- Trial version available on both Steam and Amazon
- Art 70% 70%
- Sound 60% 60%
- Replayability 80% 80%
- Fun 40% 40%
- Score 50% 50%