What if the floor was jelly? Ian Snyder’s answer to that question is a fanciful, giggle-inducing romp with physics. After two years of working on the puzzle platformer, it was finally released in January 2014. As a rule, I get easily frustrated with platformers. I’m pretty terrible at them for whatever reason. Despite this, there are a small number of platformers that I really love and The Floor is Jelly has wiggled its way into that distinction. If I had to pick one word to describe this game it would be “delightful” because that word can describe any aspect of this game: art style, music, game mechanics and level design.
You are a small blob with legs. And the floor is, indeed, jelly. Your aim is to get to the open window or elevator at the other end of the level. Sometimes this means utilizing the bouncy, jiggling qualities of the jelly to propel yourself and sometimes it means diving underwater and navigating the upside-down physics there. Just as you master one particular set of physics challenges you’re given a new challenge. Something The Floor is Jelly does well is the introduction of those challenges – there is no tutorial, no tooltips. The levels themselves are designed to subtly prod you in the direction of figuring out the key to the puzzle. An example in the early stages of the game is a level whose exit is at the top of a long narrow passage. The lesson to learn is that you can bounce your way up jelly walls.
The squishy world you’re introduced to is simple and beautiful at the same time. The levels are filled with trees, mushrooms, birds, frogs and other flora and fauna that serve as eye candy without being too distracting from the goals and level design. Disasterpeace, my current favorite musical artist and composer for FEZ, worked with Snyder to craft the ambient, relaxing soundtrack for The Floor is Jelly. Its calming nature fits beautifully with the peacefulness of the world. And don’t forget the main attraction: jelly. As I got my bearings in the world and bounced my way across the first few levels I found myself actually laughing out loud because it was just plain fun. The silliness of the jelly physics is amazingly fun to play with and explore.
At one point you need to touch glowing little clouds to unlock… spirits? Or maybe some wind? It’s hard to say what it is, but they unlock bigger doors for you to continue through. Besides helping you unlock doors, another pleasant effect of unlocking the spirits is the feeling that you are interacting with the world in a meaningful way. I didn’t notice the feeling until I unlocked the spirits, however once I did I realized that was what was missing. The perception that you are making some kind of difference, good or bad, in the game world is an important aspect of a game. Without it, it’s easy to slip into the “What is the point?” train of thought. By showing that the player is actively changing and engaging with the world, the game keeps the player engaged in the game itself.
Difficulty and Progression
Don’t be deceived by the tranquil setting though – the platforming puzzles offered by the game can be quite challenging. My laughter in the first few levels turned to swearing mid-way through the water levels as I plunged myself again and again into the spiky blobs of death. Expert maneuvering is required to bounce, dive and narrowly avoid touching the spiky blobs to get to the next window. Despite my vocalized frustrations though I couldn’t stop. “Just one more time, I’m so close, just a little in the other direction…” I kept thinking. And then finally I would make it to the window! “Hey, this level doesn’t look too hard, let’s give it a try” and the cycle would continue.
The progression of puzzles and levels in the game is wonderful. You start off small with just a few jelly platforms and an obvious window or elevator to get to. You move on to more varied levels requiring more vertical or horizontal exploration. At the point where you start unlocking little spirits the progression becomes more branched than linear as you get to “portal rooms” with one main door that you need to unlock using the spirits in each of the windows that branch off from that portal room. In words this might sound a bit confusing but as you play it feels intuitive and makes sense while using no words to guide you.
One of the best parts about dying all the time is how little effect it has on the flow of gameplay. Now I’m not saying that dying does not have consequences – you have to start back at the window or elevator you came from. Rather, there is no “GAME OVER”, no loading screen, no overly long death animation to take you out of the action. You fall out of frame or you splat against a spiky blob and an instant later you’re back at the starting window ready to try again. This fuels the “Just one more time! Just one more level!” mindset and really keeps you involved and playing. Additionally, the individual levels are never very long which means dying isn’t the rage-inducing setback that it is in other games.
I’d recommend The Floor is Jelly to everyone. Seriously. Everyone should play this game. Now posting this review a year after the game’s release, I feel that this is one of the most underrated games of 2014 and it makes me sad that more people haven’t given this game a try. The controls are simple enough for anyone to get a handle on and the jelly physics are infectiously fun. The atmosphere crafted by the art style and music will help to sooth your frustration as you work your way around the puzzles presented to you. The levels are eloquently designed to guide you in the right directions without being overt.
It is worth every single penny.
This article originally appeared at orttimusprimetime.com and was published in April 2014. Since that site got shut down I am now re-hosting my article here. Also, I think in the final version there was a bit more to the article but this is the only version I have saved. Freelance protip: save the final versions of your articles to your own storage so you don’t kick yourself later.
The game key for this review was given to me from the game developer. Later once the game went on Steam, I bought the game for my own library.