I just played a level that brought into stark contrast all the highs and lows of this damned game series.
This was part of the main adventure, in the second section (the swamp, I guess). There's a side mission you can do that grinds your sackthing down into multiple tiny versions of yourself. The concept here is very clever, doing more than what is expected. The graphics are charming as always and the design of the level seems quite good on the surface.
Mechanically, though, the whole thing falls apart spectacularly. The goal is to get 6 of your minisacks to the end. I played this level dozens and dozens of times to achieve that goal. Not once did my failures feel like an error on my part.
You have all these little dudes and they start clumped together. In this state, logically, they should stay clumped together unless I mistime a jump. But they do not. For some reason, they decide to run and jump at slightly different speeds. I honestly believe it's so they can look cuter, as they seem to be looking around in different directions, smiling at different things. I think it slows them down. And, damnit, they are cute.
The entire point of this level relies on you having to keep the little guys together, but the game repeatedly keeps that from being possible. There are multiple swings within, and your sackgang often make a kind of chain (but not always). This chain can often swing right into an electric fence, taking out one or two right there. There are leaps from swings to other swings, but your sacklings will grab onto that other swing in different ways (or not at all), making it impossible to swing them all over to the waiting platform. There are jumps that seem simple, but one sackguy often decides he just can't make it.
And then there's the end bit. Your sackamatronics get clumped into two groups (more or less, which is itself an issue). Before this, there have been safe walls where you could herd them together into a cohesive mass before running them and jumping them into an unwieldy sparseness. But not at this point. These two groups are meant to make a series of jumps on tiny platforms. This would be perfectly doable if the damned things stayed together, but they do not. Often, before the end of this section, I found myself with an impossible to manage third group. Other times, every thing was actually working until, once again, three of them just decided to stare adorably at the camera instead of making it across the gap. A couple of times, the camera focused on the wrong group, making it impossible to time the jump of the sackfellows in the lead.
And this doesn't even count the times I suddenly found myself in background-only limbo.
The feeling I had completing this level was one of luck finally working for me. Not that I had accomplished anything through skill.
Of course, you don't have to get all of the sackers to the end. They'll let you off just getting one there, but when the cuteness gauntlet is thrown... And it says something that I stuck it out.
As always, I want to like these games way more than I do. I look forward to them every time. The aesthetic is very appealing. I love Stephen Fry (though I have been finding myself wishing he would shut the hell up with all that tweeness). The music is generally great. The way it's put together is extremely clever. But the mechanics are just not there. They are sloppy and punish you for their sloppiness (not like, say, the Lego games, where they're sloppy, but apart from some bad races, it doesn't really matter).
The potential for this game is massive, but I think they constantly shoot themselves in the foot. It's a big release, of course, but it could be even bigger. My daughter always wants to play these games (and I try to get her to do it, if only to help me get those annoying MP collectibles (I don't like being forced to play with others to scratch my completionist itch), but she almost always gives up after one level.
Frustration should not be this big an issue in such a charming game.