Adventure platformer has level design down to a vine art#
Few feelings in videogames are quite like the thrill of being somewhere you’re probably not supposed to be. Here - along the unlit path, across the nearly too-wide gap, and of course, behind the waterfall - is where the sensation of exploration is at its strongest. You enter a conversation with the world and its creator; every step away from the beaten track is a question posed by the player. The best developers, of course, usually have answers.
Nbeyeler is one of them. Adventure platformer Jungle Bill VR is captivating in its subtlety: think Tomb Raider’s exploration and treasure-hunting, but without the wolves bearing down on you, and with twin pistols swapped out for a double jump. The humid jungle buzzes mildly around you; ruins sleep in the pools of sunlight below the canopies. Labyrinthine level design beckons you onward at every turn, frequently dropping you at remarkable destinations. The objective is not to dominate this place, but to get to know it - and Nbeyeler masterfully creates space in which this conversation between player and world can happen.
When they’re not creating in Dreams, Nbeyeler works as a visual and performance artist on legendary Las Vegas show Absinthe - they’re no stranger to directing an audience’s attention, then. Brilliantly, they’ve managed to transfer this set-staging experience into the interactive sphere with Jungle Bill VR. The canniest addition is allowing players to switch between first- and third-person views by pressing the circle button at any time. It’s a practical choice: trickier platforming sections (shout-out to the treasure temple featuring creaking wooden windmills design to trip us up) can be played in third-person to minimise the risk of losing one’s lunch. Switching to the first-person view, meanwhile, allows for more detailed exploration of certain areas. Its inclusion reinforces the intent behind Jungle Bill VR: that this is a place to be savoured and enjoyed - tested, even - rather than torn through in a mad dash for loot. The change of perspective itself is breathtaking, particularly in VR. One moment, you’re hopping and flipping a tiny Bill through an exquisitely crafted diorama; in the very next you’re there, gazing up at the overgrown temples in awe.
The headline here, then, is the sheer sense of scale that Nbeyeler achieves - via creative decisions as well as technical ones. The placement of various vistas - caverns receding into rocky passageways, gigantic statues framed by nearby archways - is deliberately plotted, encouraging players to pause between certain platforming sections and spot new routes through (and collectibles hidden around) this sprawling area. It’s only while peering down from halfway across a wooden bridge far above the world, layers upon layers of architecture falling away below us in a view that recalls much of Team Ico’s work, that we realise how Nbeyeler’s managed to pull off a scene of this verticality: things such as tiny flagstones have been upscaled and repurposed as walls, and staircases shrunk into decorative details, helping save on memory.
In other words, Nbeyeler has the kind of detail-oriented, endlessly generous mind that anticipates a player’s curiosity, and is always delighted to reward it. We might think we’ve fashioned a forbidden walkway, or squeezed into an errant gap in the cliff face. Every time, we find Nbeyeler at the other end of it, waiting with a shiny coin or a special view - and, we presume, a smile.
VERDICT: A VR-compatible adventure platformer of incredible scale that makes exploration the true star of the show (sorry, Jungle Bill).
(Requires that you own Dreams)
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