I’m a fan of strange games. Whether they’re about shooting aliens while dancing with a late Michael Jackson, rolling things up with a ball, or capping pens, I love me some quirky video games. Safety First, a puzzle game with a unique mechanic, tries to capture that eccentric flare, but ultimately becomes an exercise in frustration with its floaty physics and unfair difficulty.
Safety First desires to be hilariously strange, with its main gimmick being that the character pees on broken wires in order to mend them. Not with urine, as the game drills into your head, but with Magical Yellow Repair Liquid. You control an unnamed stick figure throughout 69 levels as it tries to extinguish these wires with a crudely shaped block not-penis. The game requires you have a 360 gamepad or equivalent, as moving the figure involves moving both joysticks to move its legs and pressing a button in order to release the liquid. Most levels have a strict MYRL limit, so you have to be careful when you try to extinguish something; drop too much liquid and you’ll have to off yourself (with a handy button press!) and retry. Stretching the figure’s legs too far or succumbing to a level’s traps will cause you to fail and die, often in brutal ways.
The idea sounds interesting in theory, but after five minutes of chuckling at the fact that I had to pee on things to clear a level, the rest of my playthrough ended up in frustration and yelling. The game’s rag doll physics don’t translate well to movement, and even traveling down a straight line can be an uphill battle. Most of the time, just a few degrees of moving a joystick was enough to position its legs badly enough to kill my figure, causing yet another death. Think of the flash game QWOP with a length of three hours and the inclusion of death traps and other obstacles.
The level design is adequate, but the controls make earlier levels hard and later ones a nightmare. Luckily, if you fail enough times, you have the option to skip a level, which is a nice touch. While controlling your character is difficult enough, you’ll have to adhere to the release limits, which are unbalanced and unnecessary; it was almost impossible to line up the legs and have a clear shot, and if a drop wasn’t lined up perfectly with the wire, it was wasted. With levels that rely on timing, this turns into a cycle of sadness and death. Additionally, there are a couple other modes you can unlock which can make the game faster or erratic, which further exacerbates the difficult controls.
Unlike something from South Park: The Stick of Truth, however, Safety First doesn’t go over-the-top in its humor, which is a shame. The premise is definitely eye-raising (as proven by the random passerby that I had to explain the game to) but because of the minimalistic graphics, consisting of mostly stick figures, the funniest moments rely on phallic puns and innuendo in its level titles. The game dances around the fact that you’re not urinating on wires with a penis, but never goes out of the way to say it; I’d rather it just described this outright. Some of the level designs are humorous and made me giggle, but other than that, it’s tame and uninteresting for most of the experience. When a minigame from Warioware can elicit more laughs and accomplish in five seconds what you’re trying to do in an hour, you know you’re doing something wrong.