If there’s one constant in video games, it’s the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around you. You’re frequently a pawn in a larger collection of events, trying to get by and lower the flag at the end of each course, trying hard not to fall off a platform or get chomped by a plant. But haven’t you ever wondered…what if I was in charge? What if those little helmeted Mettaurs didn’t pace back and forth until Mega Man decided they did? As thrilling of a power trip as that would be, no platformer has ever really delivered that kind of experience…until Constant C. Constant C, a title due soon for Steam and Xbox 360 from IGS (and already available via Desura) puts you in the shoes of an adorable maintenance droid sent out to save a derelict space vessel from a lot of…timey-wimey stuff.
Upon booting it up, you’ll notice a charming art style with rather chiaroscuro coloring and shading, not unlike a cuter, space-themed Limbo. As you progress through the opening levels, you begin to notice something odd happening. There are boxes and platforms just like in any other game about jumping, but…they all seem to be waiting for you! Conveyor belts don’t start until you land on them, the ever-present crates are suspended in mid-air until you get closer, and you get the sense the whole world is dead until you get close enough to it. It’s a rather eerie sensation at first.
As the adorably emoticon-flashing Artificial Intelligence Control Platform explains to you, an experiment involving the speed of light has left nearly the entire space station temporally suspended. Your ability to move the world around you stems from your temporal manipulation field, allowing time to progress like normal when any suspended object enters the small sphere constantly encircling you. And, as always seems to be the case with things like this, it falls to you to restore power to the space station and get to the bottom of this baffling space-time dilemma!
It’s through this use of time that Constant C really sets itself apart from other platformers. Many of the puzzles will require you to think several steps ahead, plotting your moves to land just close enough to the needed platforms to make it move where it needs to be. Certain platforms will scroll back and forth while you ride them, but many crates and tiles won’t move again after they’ve reached their destination, forcing the combination of quick-thinking and careful planning that the best puzzle games bring out in a player. While it does seem unfortunately easy to get yourself in a non-winning situation by moving the wrong box at the wrong time, the quick respawns and ‘restart level’ option encourage experimentation and retrying with the same sort of speed Bioshock or Super Meat Boy do.
Time isn’t your only option. Several areas also include gravity manipulation levers, which do exactly what it sounds like they do. In many cases, these serve as your only saving grace to reverse a bad block placement or to cross a previously unreachable gap, even if reversing gravity will more often than not throw you into precariously positioned sawblades. And yes, sadistically enough, the sawblades don’t start moving until you get close to them. Deathtraps have to play by the same rules of time that everything else does. Everything except you, though, and that’s how you’re going to rescue the crew and get out of this mess!
Many people have remarked, myself included on this very website, that there’s an awful lot of indie platformers these days and it takes either a great art style or a fun gameplay hook to set one apart from the madding crowd. Constant C manages to do both. The flat, spare graphics prevent it from getting either too grim or cartoony, the ambient soundtrack fits perfectly with the theme of a spacecraft frozen in time, and the time- (and gravity-) manipulating gameplay will appeal to both puzzle and platformer diehards. If you’ve got a PC with a gamepad and don’t mind buying games off not-Steam, and you enjoy time, jumping, or timed jumping, go get a copy. If you only have an Xbox 360 and/or REALLY NEED those Steam ‘cheevos, then at least make sure you’re keeping an eye on Constant C. It may be the only chance you ever get to feel like the flow of time is yours to command. Or, at the very least, it’s nice to play a platformer that waits for you to say “go”.