This Lab Rabbit Leads La Résistance

Review of Lab Rabbit on XBLIG: Pass
It’s time for gamers and rabbits to unite against hard-as-fun platformers.

My fellow gamers, this review is a thinly disguised call to arms.  We can no longer stand by and say nothing while the innocent die (and die, and die again).  I speak of course on games like Lab Rabbit that attempt to pass off hard as a fun and challenging.

Lab Rabbit masquerades as a novel little platformer.  The black and white color palette help sets off the blood of dead rabbits.  And there are many dead rabbits.  Rabbits die when they touch spikes.  Rabbits die when they hit the corner of a platform.  Rabbits die when they jump too far and land wrong.  Yes, just jumping wrong can kill rabbits.

When there are this many ways for my rabbit to die, it’s critical then I can precisely control my rabbit.  In Lab Rabbit I have no such control.  The game uses the left thumbstick to move my rabbit and to control the angle when jumping.  The A button makes my rabbit jump, and my rabbit will also auto-jump if near an edge.  The left thumbstick will control the rabbit once in air, adding to or lowering the height of the jump.  I used the word “control” but in reality I have anything but control.

The left thumbstick’s angle of response is very touchy.  Holding the thumbstick in the same position, one jump might be a small skip and the next will leap across the screen.  The edge auto-jump kicks in when it’s not wanted and timing a running jump is very difficult.

Lab Rabbit appears to be aware of just how bad these controls are.  There are several checkpoints in the experiments (aka levels), my rabbit has unlimited lives, and the save system keeps your progress between sessions.  I wonder if a developer removing all penalties for death is a red flag for a overly difficult game?  The only penalty for death in Lab Rabbit is having to play more Lab Rabbit.

I apologize, that last sentence was written out of anger.  I just came from playing Lab Rabbit: failing to make the same jump 40 times in a row.  That is not an exaggeration – I died at least 40 times (I think I died 10 times before I started keeping count so it could be 50) on the same jump.  After the 40th dead rabbit, I could not bring myself to finish the game.  I was on level 4.

With the release of titles Mega Man 9 and Super Meat Boy indie developers seem to think it’s okay to just make a game “really hard” and it will be fun.  Developers must realize that difficulty is only one factor, and it requires a careful balance.   The game must have a carrot and a stick; it cannot just beat the rabbit senseless with the stick.  The harder I have to work at completing a level, the sweeter the reward I expect. 

Lab Rabbit is a Pass.  While I am willing to entertain the endless difficulty debate of games like Super Meat Boy and Mega Man 9, these games have more to them than just a hard time.  Lab Rabbit only offers hard levels with loose controls.  To any developers reading this review that are thinking about or working on a soul-crushingly hard platformer, please spend extra time balancing and play testing the game with other gamers.  The rabbits and I will thank you.

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