There are already tons of very respectable puzzle games beginning to land on the Nintendo Switch, but I don’t think the console has quite got one of the same importance as, say, Lumines, or perhaps more appropriately Tetris, in terms of what they did for the adoption of their respective handheld consoles during early life. Puyo Puyo Tetris is probably the best puzzler on the Switch right now, but Binaries offers something very different and I must say, it is certainly eye catching, if nothing else.
I mean, just look at it. What you can see in these screenshots is the basic skin (which is undoubtedly the best) but pixel art, chromatic, black and white, to name just a few of the options, are available. You can also see the strong artistry and humour that helps to make it what it is — Binaries, like so many indie games, was made by people who care. Taking pride in your work is always a very good start when it comes to games that require exhaustive play testing and incredible attention to detail like Binaries does, so I admit to being hopeful about this game from the very start.
As a concept, Binaries is very straightforward. The player simply controls two different coloured orbs using an uncomplicated, single button to jump and the directional joystick to move around. The complexity comes from its level design and the fact that whenever one orb moves, so too does the other, meaning that you really have to concentrate on both at the same time. Sometimes this manifests itself as a test of hand-to-eye coordination, whilst on others it can simply be about reflexes or pure wit. Sometimes — almost every time, actually — it results in white hot, seething fury when you fail for the hundredth time.
The level design in Binaries is fiendish and often unfair, which is something that the designers clearly knew (and revelled in). Because of that, it includes a number of ways to limit the frustration: a death count and time counter will provide a metagame for perfectionists, whilst those of us who die often (like me) can content themselves with both an instantaneous respawn and the ability to return to the hub map. This hub features a welcome expansion system that allows players to access two or three new levels each time one is completed, so when you get stuck somewhere, chances are you’ll be able to pick from four or five others at any given time, which can lead to a breakthrough elsewhere.
I said already that the levels themselves are a fiendish bunch and there are about a hundred to work through (I’m not going to count them all individually, sorry), about ninety percent of which will challenge most players to their wits’ end. Almost every level is asymmetrical in very challenging ways, meaning that spikes and other hazards are placed deliberately in locations that will cause one orb or the other to meet a grisly end when their partner moves in certain ways. This usually results in having to move back and forth, sometimes jumping just to ‘block’ one orb, or adjust their distance from the other, not to mention trapping them wherever possible.
Although I have experienced moments of outright rage with Binaries, I have also experienced elation and I do think that Binaries is easily among the top five puzzle games on the Nintendo Switch, with a cool look and feel and a lasting, replayable structure. It has pin sharp controls and, whilst often frustrating, you will mostly come to terms with the fact that only your own stupidity or lack of skill is what will hold you back. It’s much less fun than Puyo Puyo Tetris, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also a much less lightweight experience and will appeal to those who like a stiff challenge.