It’s tough for puzzle-platformers to stand out. So many do such similar things, often using just a single concept to gain attention. It is that concept that the developers bank the game’s success on, hoping that the one gimmick is good enough to carry a full game. Replay: VHS Is Not Dead is a game that does, indeed, bank its entire success on one element. Fortunately, it works out great, and Replay has wound up being one of the most fun puzzle platformers I’ve played in a long time.
The gameplay is simple, yet ingenious. It is a puzzle-platformer with a very basic set of commands for controlling multiple characters. You can walk, jump, push blocks, and stand on switches. This sounds standard for the genre, but where the game becomes brilliant is in its “rewind” mechanic. See, you can only control one character at a time, but by hitting ZL, you can go back and control another character – from when you began controlling the first character.
Essentially, this means that you control one character and have them complete an action, like push a block off a wall. Then you go back and control the other character, have them wait for the block to be pushed off the wall, and then they can jump on the block to get on top of that wall. You can then have one character stand on a switch that lowers a gate, so the other character can push out a block from behind that gate, and- well, hopefully you get the idea. Again, though, you have to complete every action from the beginning of the level every time. Once you get every character to their designated end points, you move on to the next level.
This is a risky concept that could be screwed up easily by poor design, but it is excellently done. Even as the experience gets more complex, with more complicated obstacles, more characters to control, more steps needed to complete a given level, and with increasingly precise timing for each character necessary, it always feels reasonable. Even with no idea how to complete a given level when first started, after a little experimentation the solution soon becomes clear – and then it’s just a matter of carrying out your plan, seeing the twists that are thrown at you, and improvising. It is remarkably satisfying, fun, and at times, challenging.
One smart design choice is that you need not worry that you might screw up a sequence and bring down all your progress; the game lets you redo each character’s progress individually as many times as you like until you get it perfect, without changing how you controlled the other characters. Another nice addition are the keys present in each level. These require an additional several steps to grab, and it is often quite challenging to do so, but they unlock bonus levels. Completionists will have a worthy reward.
The game has about seventy levels, spread across four worlds. It’s an appropriate level of content; not too short, nor does it outstay its welcome. There are obstacles that require strict timing and even bosses, which I was worried about, but these are as well designed as the rest of the game.
Everything outside of the gameplay is a bit less impressive. The story is a bit meaningless: the main character is sucked into a TV after renting some VCR tapes and becomes a part of various movies’ plots. These plots are spoofs of well known real-world movies, but not much is done with this potentially awesome idea; the characters aren’t interesting, the dialogue lacks jokes (or anything else to make it compelling), and the plots are purposefully bare-bones. It is a cool premise, but nothing is done with it. And that is fine; the story rarely takes up more than a few seconds in between levels.
Visuals are adequate, with a cartoony art style that is relatively charming. It fits the game well enough, but it is not that great in its own right. Music is similar; the songs are fine for what they are, but it’s nothing you will seek outside the game.
All in all, Replay: VHS Is Not Dead is a brilliant game. It may not have particularly compelling visuals, music, or stories, but the gameplay is just superb. If you’ve got puzzle-platformer on the brain, Replay: VHS Is Not Dead is for you.