Chester ReviewJoe Shaffer
Chester is the kind of title that belies a lukewarm experience. The moniker lacks in terms punch or mystique. It doesn't demand your attention or seem very alluring, and may even come off as a tossed-together project that someone uploaded onto Desura in the hopes of effortlessly making a few dollars.
...that is, it belies as much.
I would have passed on Chester were it not for my adoration of 2D platformers, especially titles that sit under the radar. Even after I purchased the game, though, I would stare at its name on my backlog spreadsheet and think, "Why did I download that?" What it was that pushed me through the apathy I felt towards the title and finally play Chester still eludes me. All I can say is that I'm ultimately thankful that the unseen force goaded me to actually give this delightful game a spin.
Chester may seem like your average 2D platformer at the outset. The goal of the first few stages is more or less "run to the right, collect colored boxes, jump over pits, shoot things, win." The control response is both slippery and floaty, which usually makes for a sour experience. I'm sure you can imagine how tricky, precision-based jumps would play out when you're slowly floating across the screen and clumsily sliding once you make contact with the ground...
Somehow, Chester takes the usual suspects and makes them work effectively. After you've completed a few stages, you might notice the slow dissipation of the "running to the right" standard. Later stages send you through convoluted grinders of wacky obstacles, including fire-belching cannons, frog-generating lifeforms, and floating eyeballs that home in on you, not to mention a menagerie of pesky and peculiar beings that get weirder as you advance through the campaign. Late-game levels introduce branching hallways and blocked-off corridors, even claustrophobic quarters and spacious vistas.
Collecting colored boxes does more than boost your score, as each box is a legal tender in the Chester universe. Provided that you possess a hefty enough stack of cash, you can unlock new characters (each of which is a reference to another video game or internet phenomenon) with different attributes, attacks, and skills. For instance, you can drop a pretty penny and unlock Chesty, a Mario-inspired version of Chester who shoots bouncing fireballs. There's also Sir Chesterworth III, a P.B. Winterbottom-esque Chester who can float through the air, thanks to his mighty parasol.
For each foe felled, the oddball you currently control gains a bit of experience and eventually levels up. Soon enough, taking on even the more irksome enemies becomes a breeze, as your characters' shots dish out more damage than before. However, leveling up alone will not save you in some circumstances. Each character bears one of three elemental attributes (consisting of fire, water, and grass), which work like rock, paper, and scissors in Chester. For instance, fire attacks are effective when used on grass-based enemies, but weak against water-based monsters. This combined with the sparse RPG elements inspires players to switch between characters regularly, so you aren't just plowing through the competition using just Chester himself.
You might think that none of above changes the aforementioned control response issues, and you'd be right. However, I will say that the floaty and slippery controls are at home in this bizarre title, as they add a sort of hypnotic feel to the game that meshes well with its off the wall environments and gorgeously alien visuals.
The game's graphical style imitates strange doodles you might find in someone's high school notebook, complete with classic college rule blue lines in the background. Further worlds reveal a variety of background styles centered on various types of paper or graphics. The background in one world, for example, appears to be a blueprint, complete with stimuli formed of basic white lines. Other worlds feature environments that hearken back to older forms of gaming, including an LCD realm that appears to have been lifted from the ancient Game and Watch collection. What's especially great about these background schemes is that you can unlock them as you complete worlds, allowing you to cycle through them at will in later stages. This isn't merely a cosmetic alteration, either, as each art style bestows a passive bonus unto your characters, including reduced falling speeds and more frequent rare item drops from fallen beasts.
Even with all of the elements combined, Chester is still not a perfect game. Although I prefer my platformers to be on the hard side, Chester descends into cheapness quite a few times, especially near the end of the campaign. There's one stage that I recall having trouble with that involved negotiating a series of puny platforms in the sky. At times I'd slip off a platform and plummet to my death. If I survived that, then I still had to contend with flying enemies who sailed in at awkward angles, firing projectiles all the while. If I was careful, which was rare, I could deftly jump off the platform, maneuver myself into a fair enough position to be able to fire a shot, and then land back on the platform. The trick was being able to do this repeatedly, though, and against several individual floating foes on a handful of different platforms, and then hoping to cross the finish line with enough health. Honestly, this stage nearly spoiled the experience for me.
There were a few other levels that barraged me overmuch with enemies, but those were still manageable. Chester shined most brightly when its elements came together, bolstered by a stiff-but-not-unforgiving challenge factor to create a title that's every bit as tough and exciting as it is odd and creative. If you've had it with pretentious platformers that are lauded as high-end art, and are looking for a game that packs substance with its style, then I suggest dropping $5 into Chester.
NOTE: If you don't want to play this game on PC, worry not. It's also available on Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Indie.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.