A perfection of ideas – this is how Jesse Venbrux describes his first-prize-winning entry into the fifth YoYo Games competition “Design a Handheld Game”. And it’s a fitting description. They Need To Be Fed features elements found in his previous works, most notably the 360° gravity well-known from Frozzd (his winning entry into the first YoYo Games competition over two years ago) and improved with the lesser-known Maru, a game released earlier this year. It’s clear there’s been thought, and care, put into its perfection – whereas Frozzd was a little clunky and felt glitchy, TNTBF is smooth. So, so smooth.
So, in the game, you play as a guy who, oddly, must get himself eaten without dying on the journey to the predator. Whereas Frozzd levels were a cluster of large planets, the worlds in TNTBF consist of small spheres, rectangles, triangles etc, each with their own independent gravity. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’re into it, the game’s intricate movement allows for rather a lot of manoeuvrability… which you need.
Levels start off fairly easy, but it doesn’t take long for the difficulty to be cranked up sky-high. Initial menaces, such as stationary mines, are little threat provided you’ve nailed the controls down. It becomes a second nature to be jumping from one “planet” to another, dodging airborne mines as you switch from one gravity field to the other seamlessly. But other things are quickly thrown in which prove trickier to avoid. Moving mines, which tend to orbit circular “planets”, and particularly homing missiles, will be a bother, especially when you’re having to dodge both at once… while planets are rotating, moving, or reacting to your jump landings. It certainly turns into something requiring plenty of multitasking, as you look to avoid being killed by everything Venbrux decides to throw at you simultaneously, while timing jumps and movements to absolute perfection.
One thing about the gameplay is that it’s perfectly suited to portable gaming, something I’m sure aided its success. Levels are fairly short – most will be completed before the minute is up (excluding however many thousands of times you choose to die). Furthermore, it holds an addictive quality to it, with frustration being hastily subsided by the knowledge that your death was your fault and you can win this level.
Graphically, though minimalistic in style, the game is very pleasant to look at. It has a cartoony aesthetic that is pleasing to the eye, animations are cute, smooth and very well drawn, and (nearly) everything fits together beautifully. The clouds in the first group of levels are slightly misfitting, as has been noted by others before, but they’re not hideous or detrimental to the experience in any major way. The menu, though I’m sure is great, was slightly problematic for me as it ran at about 3FPS. I will reinforce though that this was likely a problem with my computer, not the game, as I saw nobody else complain about any such problem. Sounds and music are both minor parts of the game, but are fitting where used.
So was it a worthy winner? As a stand-alone game, I’m not sure. Venbrux himself stated the game didn’t take a huge amount of time, and there is of course the aspect of its concept being very similar to some of his previous works. There were also a lot of games, including the games that took second and third, that reek of quality. Even some of the games that didn’t manage a “Runners-up” placement seemed to have originality and quality TNTBF didn’t quite manage. But as a handheld game, it’s suited to a T. Short levels, addictive gameplay, progressive difficulty, replayability (in the gem collection) and a nice little pile of levels mean TNTBF would be PSP gold. I know I’d buy it for portable play.