Hard. Difficult. Hardcore. The developers of AFTERGRINDER are quick to point out this game’s one major selling point. While this is not a lie, a game cannot survive on this premise alone. So what else is AFTERGRINDER bringing to the table apart from an inability to make proper use of the caps lock?
An Arcade Grind
The first thing that comes to mind as the game starts up is the almost complete lack of a tutorial, apart from a “How to Play” menu. With the 3 button controls and very straightforward gameplay, this is not something that makes a huge impact on the enjoyment of the game. Press up or down to shift gravity or crouch and press space to boost. Apart from increasing the players rank on the leaderboards, the boost has little to no use in the early levels, but can later be used to break down barriers, which does take some getting used to and the extra speed will definitely result in a lot of quick deaths.
Speaking of dying, once you’ve done it a certain number of times, the easy character (The Dude) is unlocked, who is a little slower than the standard character. If the game thinks you’re doing well on the other hand, it’ll unlock the hard character (The Shark) for you. Apart from the aesthetics though, the only real difference is how fast everything moves, including the enemies rate of fire. To survive the harder levels on the Shark character, you need to either have super-human reflexes or be prepared to watch the death counter reach seven or more digits. This can happen faster than you’d think, considering the game takes less than a second to reset a level after each death.
As far as graphics go, AFTERGRINDER looks like many other indie games, with the minimalist tone that a lack of a huge development teams usually brings. In fast-paced runner games, this is usually a good thing however, since you need to be able to make out the obstacles in your peripheral vision. While it does make the game confusing before you learn the obstacles by heart, the stark colours let you quickly identify any up-coming objects and make split second decisions… or die, both quickly and often.
The sound effects consist of the usual beeps and boops that often characterizes arcade games but more could have been done to make the music less repetitive. While not horrible, it does get very monotonous since the same few songs get repeated over and over again every time you die which, as the game is quick to remind you, happens a whole lot. So get used to those first 10 seconds of each song, you’ll be able to hum them in no time. Alternatively, mute the in-game music and get some Black Sabbath playing in the background.
Apart from a few minor annoyances, AFTERGRINDER is a very competent entry in the runner category. The inability to scroll the leaderboards with a mouse or determine the difficulty on which you beat a certain level outside of the leaderboards themselves are among the odd design choices. Be warned that the developer’s focus lies entirely on the hardcore gamer demographic which means that the game gets really hard, really fast. If you enjoy that sort of thing though it’s definitely worth the 10$ price tag. Just be prepared that to beat all 90 of the game’s levels, you are going to die, and die, and die…
… and then die some more.