There’s a sublime beauty driving Fotonica at all times.
It’s simple vector graphics twist and contort into images and designs which far succeed the simplicity with which they’re drawn, even more impressive in motion as you speed through levels barely having time to take it all in. The artistry and style expressed in these moments is at times stunning and always stimulating, mesmerizing and drastically different in tone and setting in each passing scene. Minimal sound design serves as a constant reminder of the speed and velocity with which you move, being both an invigorating source of feedback when you successfully land a jump and make it to top speed, and a sudden jolt should you miss and slam headfirst into a platform before beginning a fall into nothingness. Being in this world is in itself something of a wonder and a thrill, though one that constantly wishes to throw you out before you have a chance to behold all there is to see.
Controlled via a single button, Fotonica is a runner which compensates for its simplicity in design with challenging, extremely fast, multilayered levels with a very small margin for error. Finding the best paths and secrets within each level is an interesting and engaging element that extends your goal beyond the omnipresent fear of missing a jump and falling to your doom, and an aspect I would have liked to have seen more focus put upon besides effecting your score. Successfully making your way through these levels is invigorating, but more often than not it falls into punishing loops of trial and error, punctuated by occasional success as you incrementally make your way through levels memorizing your path and planning your jumps to the exact second.
It’s a challenge that’s certainly passable in time, but one which rarely feels fair. The monochromatic environments are often difficult to tell apart from the background and the draw distance painfully short, making judging distance and timing jumps frustrating and tedious. With how exact jumps tend to need to be to land, not having enough input to make the call of when to jump is a huge detriment to the experience.
Split into just ten very short levels (though it will of course take you longer to clear them at first), Fotonica feels like almost a prelude to a larger game. Its lacking so much content as to feel empty and possibly even unfinished, leaving me wondering what I was intended to do after completing them all in only an hour or so. The endless mode is a rather disappointing and throwaway addition, ditching the involved multifaceted platform layouts from the arcade mode for bland, single platforms which I grew tired of traversing almost immediately.
The multiplayer mode actually fixes my biggest issue with the game, that being its relentlessly punishing nature, by only setting you back a short way when you fail and then making the challenge about being the first to get to the end instead of memorizing and clearing levels on your own. Sadly it’s local only, and I doubt many will sit down with a group to spend much time with it, but the one button control scheme does mean there’s no issue of not having enough controllers as everyone can play with a single keyboard (or gamepad, if you’re dexterous enough).
I have a lot of problems with Fotonica, ones which fundamentally hurt my enjoyment of the game and have me incredibly confused on if I believe it’s worth anyone’s time to bother with. In that same instance though I’m reminded of just how artistic and imaginative running through these levels are, which caused me to continue playing far after I stopped having any great amount of “fun”. Is visual design alone enough to carry the game? I’m not sure I could give you a sincere answer, but even now I’m finding myself drawn back into it, no matter how loudly every other aspect is telling me to leave.