Just like the many collectibles found within the game, Glyph, from Danish indie developers Bolverk Games, may itself be a hidden gem. Take control of the small robotic beetle, Glyph, as he aids his people in restoring their lost civilisation from corruption. Bounce, flounce and roll your way through a multitude of levels, carefully ensuring your little ball of metal doesn’t fall into the desert sands, or else perish. This 3D platformer is described by the developers themselves as “easy to learn, but hard to master” – but just how true is this? Does Glyph provide enough to successfully drag you back for another go, even after 100 failed attempts? Short answer – yes. Long answer – well, let’s get into that.
Booting up Glyph, you’ll find yourself dropped straight into your first tutorial level. Guided by your comrade, Anobi, you’ll quickly be taught the tools at your disposal, all granted to assist you in navigating the desert terrain. I was relieved to discover that these first few levels were simply the tutorial, and not the full game, as being thrown from level to level with little to no context seemed to present a game with little substance outside of its gameplay loop. Nevertheless, upon entering the central hub, where players can select and progress through levels in whichever order they please, I was able to look back and appreciate the usefulness of the prior tutorial, as it does a great job of familiarising the player which the various movement options. As a result, being subsequently introduced to the open central hub, which is explored using the exact same mechanics as in individual levels, felt like a much more expansive experience, even if there is little to do besides selecting levels and talking to NPCs. From hereon, your quest is to slowly make your way to the abandoned shrine at the heart of your world, with the hope that your people may prosper once more. In truth, the narrative of Glyph felt a bit flimsy. It did provide some additional substance, however despite suggesting a certain degree of depth to the game’s lore, it never fully realised its ability in exploring it. Some simple cutscenes, or more story-driven levels may have gone a long way in connecting the player with the world they find themselves in. It certainly did enough to provide some context and drive the game forward, but making your way toward the endgame felt more a result of personal challenge, rather than a desire to see the story’s conclusion.
Nevertheless, just how exactly is it you reach this shrine? Well, you’ll have to complete an array of individual levels, each presenting a unique challenge and degree of difficulty. Of course, earlier levels are far easier than the latter ones, however even your first missions prove difficult to master. This certainly fits the narrative that the game is indeed hard to master, however I would argue this is more a result of the controls, rather than the level design. I’ll delve further into this a little later on, but for now, I’ll focus of the levels themselves. There is a surprising amount of diversity between levels in Glyph, each requiring different usage of your jumping, gliding and charging abilities. What I did love about the level design in Glyph is the complete lack of linearity. Upon starting a level, you’re free to jump around and explore as you wish. Furthermore, given the game controls, you’re able to bounce from point A to Z, without having to meticulously go through every point in-between. This opens the game up to many gameplay styles, from speed-running through each level as fast as possible, to slowly exploring every nook and cranny, picking up every collectible you can. Speaking of which, these collectibles are central to Glyph. Simply put, the coins, gems and artefacts you collect are used as currency to unlock more levels, and progress further into the game. You aren’t required to collect all of them (or any really, if you want to be stuck on the same level that is), and the freedom afforded to players by the developers is a highlight worth mentioning. Each level also has a secret cosmetic to collect, which although given a weak narrative to justify their inclusion, are fun and challenging to unlock. All in all, the level design in Glyph is fantastic, and allows players to take full advantage of their arsenal of abilities, meanwhile giving them the option to use them however they wish.
On that note though, there is one rather glaring issue in Glyph’s gameplay design – gravity. I spent most of the time playing Glyph with an aura of frustration, wondering how the complete lack of gravity placed upon your character went amiss during development. In all honesty, I do love a challenge, and it is exactly these types of games that hook me in the most. So, it may be true this design choice was made for exactly that reason – to present a challenge. However, the movement of your metal ball feels far too unnatural, and the assumption that you will fall perfectly onto that platform you need to reach (based on… you know… your real life experience of gravity) will inevitably lead to several failed attempts. This is all in spite of an otherwise smooth, and flawless movement system. Again, it may be that this was done deliberately to create a sense of reward in achieving mastery, but in reality, even far into the game, you will find yourself continuing to misjudge your ability to navigate your environment. I, for one, am fine with these moments of frustration, as I find challenge to be an essential element needed when I am choosing a game. However, for some, this could be rather off-putting.
Lastly, I just wanted to touch on the visual design of Glyph. Wow. Bolverk Games have done a tremendous job in designing a game that, despite being glaringly low-poly, looks breath-taking. Each level creates a notable sense of depth and realism, with platforms incorporated into the natural environment. Ok, sometimes it does look a bit too convenient (much like the random haystacks found across almost every Assassin’s Creed game), but even then it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see how each level is born out of the story and world they are found in. This is all tied together with some beautiful lighting, and gorgeous colour schemes, which simultaneously incite a degree of charm and immersion across almost every level. Similarly, the game is laden with a soothing soundtrack, which often switches up for more frantic moments. I did notice one technical issue however, as upon entering such a phase of a level, the audio volume skyrockets up out of nowhere. This can be a little immersion-breaking, but is hardly enough to take away from the overall experience. In sum, the aesthetic created by Bolverk Games is fantastic, and they should receive all the praise they deserve.
I alluded to Glyph potentially being a hidden gem at the very start of this review, and I continue to stand by that statement. Yes, the game does have some small issues, namely with its controls, but looking beyond this, Bolverk Games has developed a rich, beautiful and compelling game. It is a game for 100%-ers, speed-runners, or even casual gamers who just want to pick up their Switch and play a level or two. I find myself falling into the former category, and know for certain that I have many more hours left to play of a game that has found itself near the top in my list of favourite games. Glyph is a game that I would implore all of you to try, even if this is isn’t your usual type of game. I’ve refrained from giving it a 10/10 due to the issues mentioned above, but in all honesty, there is very little I can say Bolverk Games got wrong in designing such a charming and wonderful game.