I beat a lot of games. Like, a lot. So far this year, I have rolled credits on 178 different titles. If we could mirror the coloured-belt hierarchy approach that the perennially popular martial art of Karate uses, but apply it to time-management – and we really should – then I would be a blackbelt for my ability to micro-manage my day. I could probably change the world if I applied that skill to something other than gaming – like when a comedian is described as a ‘genius’ and all the scientists sigh. Anyway, I mention this because I have to keep the games at a steady flow of alternating genres. It’s not like I have played 178 beat-em-ups. But one genre I actively try to spread out are platformers. In equal measure, this is because I’m not very good at them and because I still lie awake sometimes thinking about Cuphead.
So when I was asked to play Schmutznik, I initially hesitated, but I’m glad I played this game. I loved it.
Schmutznik is a 2D platformer with a telescoping robot and short, intense caves to explore.
This game was developed and published by Avram Dumitrescu and features a robot called Schmutznik. You are deployed underground where a mysterious slime has transformed the world below the surface. Mutant plants and creatures have taken over and it is your job to clean up the mess and figure out what happened. The game consists of 35 short levels, which you navigate using the directional keys (although there is full controller support). You move from left to right, from a to b, and when an obstacle presents itself, you can overcome most of them with a telescopic neck so grand that it would make Inspector Gadget blush. By pressing the ‘up’ arrow, your robotic innards extend as far as any given situation requires and attach themselves to various ceiling types. It is by doing this that you can ascend, and subsequently descend through levels. Being able to move quickly is essential in the later stages as things get busy and you only have a certain amount of time to beat each cave. There are also environmental dangers as well as a wide selection of enemies hellbent on stopping you. To balance this, levels are filled with items to ease your sufferings, as well as an occasional checkpoint. If you ever find yourself in a real pickle, you can press ‘r’ to restart the level. I would warn you though that if you have gone through a checkpoint and then press reset, you won’t appear at the checkpoint. You will start the level over.
Schmutznik isn’t a long game but it has two aspects that really make it shine. Firstly, every level introduces either a new mechanic or a new experience. The opening level maybe as simple as getting from start to finish, but over the course of your journey you will climb, bounce, play a little tower defence, outrun a rising wall of fire, escort other creatures to safety, collect keys to unlock new paths, and fight a smorgasbord of cleverly crafted bosses. One level even has you throwing a ghost ball for your Robo-Dawg-Bot which was an unexpected but welcomed change of pace. Never knowing what I’d be facing next really kept me engaged. I didn’t find the game difficult but as it is a platformer, there is a healthy dose of trial and error, and a couple of bosses forced me to stop and think.
“Schmutznik looks blue because a powerup was collected that pauses radiation damage” – Avram Dumitrescu
The other aspect that I loved about this game is the presentation, which is a real highlight. 99% of the art is made from coloured clay. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in a game before. It really stands out and is used to great effect. There is an ‘About’ section on the main menu which goes into more detail of the tools used by Avram to make Schmutznik. It was while digging around in the menus that I found a website link to more of his work – www.onlineavram.com
Avram works primarily as an artist and illustrator. His creative time is divided into teaching digital art classes, making artwork for galleries, and commercial illustrations. His work is very impressive and I would love for you to follow the link above and check some of it out.
In summary, for the parameters of an ephemeral platformer, Schmutznik is everything it should be and regarding style, pacing, difficulty, length etc. everything is on point. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game and if 2D platformers are for you, then this is well worth picking up.
Schmutznik is out on Steam and Itch from October 15th
You can follow Avram on Twitter – @adumitrescu