Traditional platformers are few and far between these days, so when I heard a “handcrafted platformer” was coming to PlayStation 4, I was intrigued…despite the fact that it began its life as a mobile title. Typically, I abhor playing games on mobile devices, mostly because the overwhelming majority of those games are just painfully bad. And if they’re not bad, they’re certainly not comparable to the full-fledged interactive productions we get on consoles. That all being said, I think Leo’s Fortune fits very well into the PlayStation Store library, as it’s quirky, fun and very well-designed. Aside from some control shortcomings, this is well worth the $7 price of admission.
There’s a crispness and cleanliness to the graphics that I definitely appreciate. I seriously doubt it looked this good on a silly smartphone, as the environmental detail and effects are quite attractive. Above all else, the gameplay design takes center-stage because there’s a mix of platforming and puzzle challenges throughout. It’s not the best design for this genre I’ve ever seen but it’s quite good and allows the player to get accustomed to the admittedly odd control scheme. There were times when I sensed a sort of blandness or repetitiveness in the background but again, we’re not talking about a Media Molecule game, right? For what it is, Leo’s Fortune looks great and there are no visual hitches to speak of.
The sound is equally solid, thanks to good gameplay effects and a decent soundtrack. I wish the music had a bit more variety and we weren’t restricted to only one score per chapter, but I can live with it. There is a voice performance; Leo has a distinct Eastern European accent (it might be Russian) and it’s appropriately guttural with a comical twist. The audio balancing is also a highlight, as everything blends together nicely during the course of your adventure; it’s a relatively minimal presentation the whole way ‘round but it’s still technically proficient. You’re not going to leap out of your seat but rather, the game’s graphics and sound has almost a lulling, captivating effect. You don’t need a ton of flash to keep one’s attention.
Leopold once had a fortune but now it’s gone. He suspects the jealous members of his extended family and so, he sets out to investigate. He will travel through 5 chapters – each chapter represents a different clan member that may have stolen Leo’s gold – and as he progresses, he’ll find pieces of his lost loot. They’re easily obtainable in each level and snagging them all will earn you a star for that level. As you might expect, Leo’s excursion quickly becomes challenging and even tense, as the obstacles in his path are always deadly. Thing is, Leo can’t get hit even once; falling or getting nailed with spikes means instant death. The good news is you start right near where you died; the bad news is you often have to complete a level with zero Fatalities to get a star.
Each level is filled with all manner of challenges and puzzles. Sometimes, you have to figure out how to raise or lower a wall that’s in your way; other times, you have to carefully hop between floating spike balls. There are no enemies – an anomaly in platformers, of course – but they’re not really necessary. You’re always focused on the task at hand and the obstacles and puzzles give you plenty to do; I think foes would just clutter up the presentation. For the most part, everything works smoothly and easily, but there is one bizarre gameplay inconsistency I will soon address. In the meantime, when discussing the gameplay, we have to describe the situation. See, this isn’t your standard bounce-around platformer.
It’s important to note the one unique element in the game, and that’s Leo himself. He’s just a furry head with eyes and a mustache; he has no limbs with which to move. However, he can slide along on his fur and he can even jump with the X button. The key to mastering Leo’s movement is learning the occasionally eccentric physics of the game. Holding the X button causes Leo to inflate like a blowfish, which allows him to float over long distances, or lets him fall slowly, allowing you to negotiate tricky traps. You always have to keep an eye on progression; i.e., how Leo will keep moving forward. Sometimes this means moving a ramp so he can slide up and hop off it; other times, it’ll mean using your downward momentum (hit Square in mid-air to gain speed).
It’s not hard to do and with a little practice, you can easily get through much of the game. But if you wish to get the majority of the available stars, one of which requires that you beat a level within a certain time frame, you have to come to grips with the control. It’s not always perfect. I still can’t quite figure out why an inflated Leo can suddenly dart down or to the side, or why sliding up a wall and then hopping over a protruding ledge can be problematic. You have to remember that Leo can stick to certain walls provided he has momentum, so just by using the left analog you can go up, down, around, etc. Individually, each function seems fine; things just start to break down when they have to be combined at faster speeds. It’s a little frustrating at times.
But if you can look past that, the game is really a ton of fun. It’s refreshing to have a platforming adventure with a few twists, especially when the adventure features a lot of inspired design. There’s a great balance between the platforming and puzzles and each level has an addictive quality to it. Your first run-through, you’re only interested in conquering the area, knowing it’s highly unlikely you’ll beat the time necessary for one of the stars. After, once you’ve got a feel for the level, you can focus on getting all the gold coins, never dying, and beating that time (all three will result in three stars; enough stars unlock a special bonus level in each chapter). If you’re diligent, though, you can probably grab all the coins your first time; it isn’t hard to do.
Control can be a little finicky and loose, it’s true. Leo’s sliding can be a tad touchy and as I said above, there are times when I just couldn’t account for his action. I think it’s weird that I was still learning the nuances and eccentricities in the next-to-last chapter and I imagine this might annoy some people. But the fun factor remains so high and you’re typically so engrossed in the charming adventure that you ignore the shortcomings. Lastly, I should add that those interested in bang for your buck should be satisfied: There are 24 levels across 5 chapters, plus the 4 bonus levels, and while one play-through won’t take more than a few hours if you’re flying, you’ll probably replay levels multiple times to get more stars. And remember, this isn’t a $20 game; at only $6.99, you really get plenty for your money, in my estimation.
Leo’s Fortune is a great little platformer with a boatload of simple appeal. I suppose I could say I was hoping for just a bit more depth and substance (without first knowing the title’s mobile origins), and the control and physics are just a bit wonky, but those are minor issues with which others may not agree. If you love the old-school platformer structure and you’re looking for a simple yet highly satisfying reprieve from the massive open-world epics, I say, go find who stole Leo’s gold. There are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon and besides, the more we support such titles, the more we’ll see of them. I’d very much like to see a sequel designed specifically for consoles; make it more robust and longer, and it’ll be a gem. And you could charge $20, too. I’d buy it.
The Good: Clean, attractive visual presentation. Appealing soundtrack, effects, and voice performance. Great overall gameplay design. Nice balancing between platforming and puzzle elements. Unique character and control scheme. Plenty of entertainment for only seven bucks.
The Bad: Control and physics are a bit off. Bonus levels are a little bland. Not a lot of depth or significant substance. Story is, well…expectedly "meh."
The Ugly: “No ‘ugly’ can exist within such pleasant surroundings.”