There’s no shortage of platformers on Xbox One, they come and go fast and often but many tend to get lost to the tests of time. It takes a platformer with unique functionality and presentation, grouped with longevity and great gameplay to stand out in the vast crowd of other like-minded releases. Despite some minor issues, Talent Not Included does just that and more. The story is about as ridiculous as they come, but in a light-fun sort of way that ties to the theme of the game. The game is based in the fantasy land of (wait for it) Notthatmuchfurther, and tells the story of three demons, Zordok, Derp, and Kevin. These three individuals just so happen to be big fans of bloodbaths, slaughter, and Shakespeare. One idea led to another and before long, these demons thought it would be a great idea to put on their own play, but as with anything in life, not all went to plan.
Zot, a demonic critic that was hired for the occasion, chooses three actors that are described as “mediocre with strong personalities” to participate in the play. The hope was that these actors would sow hell on the stage for Zot’s personal amusement, whereas of course you the player, will be taking on the role of these actors and making a few coins along the way. That’s about as much of the story that I’m willing to dish out, don’t get me wrong there really isn’t that much else to talk about, but what little else there is is for you to enjoy first hand. Talent Not Included certainly doesn’t lean all of it’s weight on the plot, but instead on the insanely addictive and incredibly well made gameplay.
As alluded to you take on the role of three heroes / actors. One being a warrior, one a rogue, and one a mage. Each of these characters have access to a collection of theme specific stages, but the catch is that each character comes with their own pros and cons. The warrior has five hearts, can double jump, wall jump, dash, and stick to objects. The rogue on the other hand has just four hearts, and similar abilities to the warrior, but swaps out the dash attack for a ground and air dodge roll that negates all damage for a short amount of time. Lastly we have the mage, who is the most distinct character out of the three. With that said, the mage only has three hearts but comes with some pretty cool moves. His attacks are projectile based, he can glide following a jump, and tops his move-set off with a the ability to teleport.
Each character has to undertake a total of 15 stages each, these come via 12 normal stages and 3 boss fights to help break up the pace of play. In your normal levels the aim of the game is simple. You’re tasked with collecting a trail of candies and hearts until you reach the end goal. However it’s not as straight forward as snatching and grabbing your way to victory, nope, you’ll be subject to heaps of enemies and dangerous obstructions throughout each stage. What makes this game truly unique is the theatrical setting, along with the cylinder-based platforms.
This means that the layout of each stage can rapidly change at the drop of a hat, pushing you to use lightning quick reflexes to see you through. Collecting candies and hearts, completing stages quickly, as well as defeating or avoiding enemies will gift you with points that you’ll be ranked with at the conclusion of each round. It’s fairly hard to score high at first, but with repeat runs and some careful yet quick play styles, it shouldn’t be long before the big scores roll in. There’s certainly a great deal of replay value to be had.
Boss battles make themselves apparent after every four stages and these come in varying forms. They’re quite simple to nuke at first, but as you begin to venture through the later stages of the game, the difficulty soon takes it up a notch or 12. You may well be able to beat down the first few bosses with ease, but it’s not long at all before pinpoint precision and perfect execution is required to even just make it through. They’re not the best sections that Talent Not Included has to offer, that merit sits with the normal stages.
That’s not to say that the boss battles aren’t fun because they’re massively engaging, but the clever and intriguing level design steals the show, pun intended. You can also play the game in co-op if you so see fit, and this works just as well as when you’re playing solo. The levels are heaps of fun and regardless as to how far through the game you are, they never get old. Just when you think you have the game sussed out, some exciting yet tense new mechanics will be thrown at you to contend with.
Mercifully the game plays extremely well, and the controls are as tight and responsive as can be. Meaning if you stumble or take a proverbial dirt nap, you’ve no one to blame but yourself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you take into account just how much activity is going on at any single moment throughout the game, it’s far too easy to misstep or fall short of where you were aiming. Frima Studio have clearly crafted a challenging game that will test your patience, but thanks to how excellent the experience handles, feels, and looks, your mistakes never feel like a total punishment. I was constantly drawn back to the game over and over again for that “one more go” following my many, many failures.
It helps of course that the game is very easy on the eyes. The design and visuals go hand in hand magnificently, from the background to the foreground, and from the alters to the ever changing cylinder-platforms. I cannot praise the game enough on this score. My only gripe with the game is that although there’s plenty of replay value, there could have been just a few more stages thrown into the mix. I left Talent Not Included wanting more, but then again I guess that’s the mark of a great adventure. It’s funny, it’s witty, and an absolute joy to play.
Talent Not Included is undoubtedly the definition of platforming done right. The game is challenging, but not so much so that you’ll rage quit at the drop of a hat. Frima have given very careful thought and planning to ensure they wont chase away their player base due to overly tough gameplay, which is something many other platforming games tend to do. Sadly there’s not a huge amount of content within, and although you’ll be satisfied with what’s on offer, you’ll be left wanting more when the curtains draw. With that to the side, there’s nothing else I could pull the game down for. It looks gorgeous, has excellent controls, comes full of light humour, and pushes forward enough replay value to justify the price tag. If you’re looking for the next Super Meat Boy, look no further.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.