140 (PS4) Review – Minimalism 101

The easiest way to describe Jeppe Carlson’s 140 is as a minimalist rhythm-based platformer. But, in many ways, it’s the gaming equivalent of a hearing test. All of the game’s hazards, platforms and puzzles are directly linked to the beat of its electronic soundtrack, and therefore successfully traversing each level and beating the boss at the end requires both keen listening as well as platforming skills.

Graphically, the game is comprised of simple geometric shapes presented in a colourful faux 8-bit style. Though simplistic, 140’s three levels are well designed, and the end goal is to simply guide the icon through a series of relatively simple platforming challenges while collecting small orbs which unlock the next section of the level.  Each new section increases the complexity of the soundtrack, and with it new obstacles and challenges. Progressing changes the frequency of when floating platforms appear and disappear, or the speed at which they move, as well as introducing new moving areas of static which send you back to the last checkpoint if you touch them.

New hazards (and adjustments to existing ones) are introduced at a steady pace throughout the game at intervals that create a nice, gentle learning curve. As a result, death never feels cheap or unfair. Though I often found myself mistiming jumps when the beat had been altered, this felt like my own fault more than anything for not paying attention to the backing track, or waiting to see how the platforms movements had changed after the change in tempo.

Each of 140’s three levels culminate in a boss fight, which test both your reflexes and ability to keep time, tasked as you are with dodging a boss attack in time with the music, and then successfully countering. For example, one level sees you dodging bouncing balls of static while trying to destroy the floating boss they’re trying to protect.

Getting through the first run of 140’s three levels will only take about an hour, but completing the initial run unlocks mirror levels, which are much harder to beat. Admittedly, this is more because the checkpoints are removed than the inclusion of extra challenges, and you are forced to retry the entire level should you make a mistake. It doesn’t offer any actual increase in difficulty, so much as a test of your patience. That said, they do extend the game’s life span by several hours if you have the necessary zen-like calm needed to get through them.

However, once you’ve dragged yourself through those, there is little incentive to return to the game, as there are currently no leaderboards to top or time trials to race through.

140-review-17The game’s greatest strength lies in how well the soundtrack blends effortlessly with gameplay.  Though simplistic at first, it slowly builds, drawing the player in as it reaches a steady crescendo by the end-of-level boss fight. As such, it doesn’t overload players from the get-go and works well in allowing players to focus on the rhythm and timings needed to complete the game’s challenges.

My major quibble is that you can’t pause 140 at all, which can become especially irksome if you’re dragged away to do something else during a boss fight, and it’s very easy to be killed should your concentration waver for even a brief moment.

140 takes its minimalism seriously: from a simple yet vibrant art style and straightforward platforming challenges, to its accompanying soundtrack that deftly underscores and ties the whole experience together.  Unfortunately, it’s just a little too minimalist, clocking in at a only a few hours to see everything the game has to offer. That being said, they are a fun few hours.

like a nice, easy-going album, 140 doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is certainly a lazy Sunday afternoon well spent.

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