Yankai's Peak Review
Since the release of Braid in 2008, the indie gaming scene has been dominated by developers trying to capture the essence of Jon Blow’s masterpiece while providing their own unique take on gameplay. This has led to a deluge of indie puzzle platformers and games centered on single concepts that subtly change throughout each level. While it leads to games that are mechanically engaging, without anything deeper, it becomes difficult to remember the plethora of titles that follow in Braid’s footsteps.
Going into YANKAI’S PEAK, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The aesthetic behind this game is very distinct, but it also doesn’t really explain what is happening. Am I a man trying to surmount a mountain, thus the PEAK in the title? Is this something along the lines of Thomas Was Alone, where I’m playing as a geometric shape with a personality?
As it turns out, none of those assumptions are true. There is zero semblance of plot to be found in this game. If you’ve grown tired of needless cutscenes and badgering assistants trying to detail simple gameplay systems to you, YANKAI’S PEAK is a fresh reminder of how simple gameplay doesn’t need forced tutorials or cutscenes to explain itself.
The gameplay takes place on a triangle based grid that you navigate one step at a time. You’re in control of a triangular prism, so your movement is confined to only three directions at any given time. As you’ll see from the very first level, the tasks that YANKAI’S PEAK throws at you involve moving differently colored triangular prisms into a goal and then proceeding with your prism into a separate goal.
While you can freely move about with your main prism, to move any obstacles, you’ll need to lock your movement to the three different points of the triangle grid you’re occupying. This allows your prism to shift itself on an axis, which then pushes the object in front of you to its corresponding direction. Trying to type this all out makes it sound ridiculously complicated, but the gameplay is very intuitive.
Being a mobile game by design, clearly designer Kenny Sun was trying to go for simplicity to keep touch screen controls as uncomplicated as possible. While there are some onscreen prompts to explain how the controls work, none of the levels feel like filler. Sure, the first few puzzles in each “World” act as a guideline for what the main mechanic in each world will be, but that’s about it.
YANKAI’S PEAK commences through six main worlds with a new mechanic in each one. You’ll encounter obstacles like the floor collapsing under you, spots that lift your prism into the air and shifting platforms that can extend beyond the grid you’re on. It is clever stuff, if entirely rote. After completing enough puzzles, you’ll assemble a bridge that leads to the next world for you to continue.
Sadly, it’s not readily apparent that you’ll need to finish all of the puzzles to “beat” the game from the start. My only real indicator for progress was Steam’s achievement system as there are separate unlocks for finishing each bridge and then finishing all the puzzles in each world.
Since I figured 100% was purely for completionists, I stopped bothering with tackling every task and kind of rushed to the end since I felt a bit indifferent to the whole game. The mechanics are sound enough, but nothing is really gripping about the proceedings, so I didn’t feel the need to go about fully destroying each world. Then I got to the end and realized that the final puzzle is locked behind a bridge that requires you to 100% the first six worlds.
I then went back and completed everything, but I can’t say I was compelled due to strong game design. Without any kind of visual or aural flourish, YANKAI’S PEAK mostly feels like yet another indie puzzle game. Sure, it functions on a basic level and even has some clever concepts, but it never really feels like enough.
I’ve been playing games like this for years and the sheer novelty of these ideas has worn off. I guess you could say the same about any number of platformers that Nintendo makes or the thousands of first-person shooter titles that have come out, but game design is more than just pairing back narrative elements and presenting things in a “pure” visage.
Without anything new to call its own, YANKAI’S PEAK kind of feels like a time waster. Clearly you’re not meant to blast through this in one sitting and maybe even locking the final challenge behind all of the previous ones may be a symptom of its mobile heritage. I guess if you’re only playing this on public transportation or during road trips, you’ll have plenty of time to deliberate the solutions to puzzles and then execute them.
At least the game doesn’t cost a tremendous amount. At only $5 on PC and $3 on mobile devices, it’s not the steepest investment you’ll ever make. The game lasts around seven hours if you’re going for full completion, so it also has a length that appropriately matches its price point.
Sadly, YANKAI’S PEAK is yet another in a long line of mechanics driven puzzle games. Its goal is simple, its execution is sound and it provides a hefty amount of individual challenges to keep you engrossed to see it through to the end, but it never does anything more to remain in your mind. This is the equivalent to video game popcorn entertainment. There is nothing wrong with that, but it also doesn’t leave any lasting impression.