Review: LOVE – Less is amour
LOVE is for everyone who’s ever played a platformer.
LOVE is a delightfully minimalist platformer, but perhaps more importantly LOVE is glass. LOVE is the glass of a mirror, the glass in a lens, and glass that will break and cut you if mishandled. It’s a wonderful little game and I think everyone who has even a passing interest in platformers should play it.
Quick note: I played LOVE on the Nintendo Switch, so I’ll be making some reference to those controls, but it’s available on Windows PCs as well.
Fundamentally, LOVE is extremely, painstakingly minimalist. You can move left and right, you can jump, and you can place checkpoints. Your jump height depends on how long you press the jump button and there’s also a “force respawn” button where you can go back to your placed checkpoint. There’s also an excellent, thumpy, electronic soundtrack. That’s it. That’s the game.
Mechanically, the clever, defining feature of LOVE is that when you die, you respawn at the checkpoint you last placed, which can be anywhere on solid ground.
Every level is mono-colored, with static geometry in one color and moving, interactive parts in white. Some white things help you, like jumping platforms, and everything else kills you instantly. Mechanically, the clever, defining feature of LOVE is that when you die, you respawn at the checkpoint you last placed, which can be anywhere on solid ground.
You can obsessively place checkpoints after every successful jump you make or you can rarely place them whenever you think you’re up against something particularly difficult. It is in that one simple mechanic, however, that LOVE shows its brilliance.
I can reduce any singular challenge to just the challenge itself. I can’t blame my gear, or the fact that an encounter requires reading and guide videos to understand, or the lengthy endurance trial leading up to the conflict, or my incompetent team members, or my bad luck:
When I die, I can only blame myself. When I lose progress, it’s because I failed to place a checkpoint in a good spot, or simply because I was arrogant and didn’t think I needed to place a new one after besting a few difficult jumps or whatever it was that got in my way. I don’t die to the game; I die to my hubris. And I think that’s beautiful.
I don’t die to the game; I die to my hubris. And I think that’s beautiful.
Without any frivolous bells and whistles, LOVE is the game equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber. The only things you’re stuck with are yourself and your thoughts. You’re forced to confront yourself constantly in this game. It turns out I don’t hate difficult platformers, for instance, I just hate ruthless checkpointing.
In the main game mode of LOVE, you don’t fail because the game is hard, you fail because you gave up. There’s something beautiful and cleansing about that to me. LOVE demands very little of you, it turns out, and it is in that freedom from demands that the joy of a challenge becomes apparent and accessible.
I also would be remiss to not speak of LOVE’s accessibility features. Given the one-color-per-stage rule, it’s 100% colorblind accessible with no need for special options. Since the main game mode allows you to place infinite checkpoints and die an infinite number of times, it’s accessible to all skill levels. Then, just to go the extra mile, there are both audio and visual cues for all of the game’s moving parts, so it’s accessible to deaf players as well. I thought it was brilliantly elegant that the game incorporated all of those considerations seamlessly. LOVE is truly a game anyone can enjoy.
LOVE is truly a game anyone can enjoy.
LOVE is a great game, but it isn’t absolutely perfect. There are a few strange choices in it. For instance, there’s a level with platforms that move when you move, but you can place checkpoints when standing on them. Then when you die, the platforms reset to their initial position and you respawn in a place where you can only die repeatedly, with no ability whatsoever to recover. Your only apparent option is to “restart” which restarts you at the beginning of the entire game, not the beginning of the level.
For a game that’s wonderfully crafted, it struck me as a bizarre design leak to allow for a brutal edge case like this to go untouched. There are a few levels like this, where you “can” place checkpoints but doing so would be a recursive death trap, which kind of unravels the idea that levels aren’t demanding and allow you to checkpoint wherever you’d like. Still, those cases are few and far between and they didn’t mar my experience too much.
On the whole, I find myself recommending LOVE wholeheartedly and without qualification. Do you like platformers? Do you like games that are elegantly minimalist? Go play LOVE. Seriously, it’s like $3 and it could have downloaded about 7 times over again in the time it took you to read this review and you can experience the whole game in less than an hour. What are you waiting for?
LOVE is for everyone who’s ever played a platformer. Everyone who needs a distraction for just a few minutes. Everyone who loves games but only has a few minutes to spare here and there to play them. Everyone who wants a succinct gaming experience that’s going to stick with them for a long time.
Finally, this bit from the About section of the game warmed my heart and I needed to share it with the world.
Jake reviewed LOVE with his own money. He’s definitely not still bitter about the Heat Man disappearing platforms that came back with a vengeance in Guacamelee’s bonus levels and were then perfected with LOVE’s infinite checkpointing system. He’d really like you to speedrun this game someday.
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