"Baby we were born to run," said Bruce Springsteen in 1975. If he had only had the pleasure of playing Fotonica before writing it, he would realise that not only are we born to run, but we are born to run and make huge flailing leaps across vast swathes of empty space. The Boss would like the game, but did I?
Fotonica is an auto-runner. A nameless and faceless male or female (it switches between levels) drops into a level and hits the floor running. Faster and faster they sprint, launching over gaps and collecting score-boosting red balls. Upon reaching a certain speed, the world goes gold as the sound barrier is breached, and the level whips past at an astonishing pace. A mistake equals a plummeting death and restart, or a body punishing collision with the scenery, which takes the wind right out of your sails.
Throughout this sweat drenched hurtle through various abstract landscapes, the player has one responsibility. Press any button to run, and release said button to jump. Pressing the same button while in the air will begin a descent, and that's it. That's the full extent of the control system. The triumph of Fotonica is that it doesn't need anything else to make it a fun, exciting and addictive game. One button is all Santa Ragione needs to make an exhilarating experience.
Fotonica is a minimal experience in all aspects. the black and white (with tiny splashes of pink and blue) line-drawn landscapes evoke apartment blocks, forests and mountains with the bare minimum of resources. Entire worlds are conjured in the blackness, but it's a game that allows your imagination to work. Things are hinted at, but never explained. The subtle slowdown before smashing through into the golden world of hyperspeeds serves to heighten anticipation, as well as to provide an 'oh shit' moment if you're about to hit a particularly tricky section.
The music follows the same path. The slightest of beats and beeps provide a soothing soundtrack to the endless running, and I think there's even an achievement for playing with 'no distractions.'
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Fotonica, and I am definitely looking forward to playing some of the harder difficulties. I am amazed by the amount of replayability, atmosphere and style in such a minimal game.