Pete Witcher is a Feature and Community Writer for Blowfish Studios.
Whipseey and the Lost Atlas is a colorful retro platformer that is more challenging - and vaguely menacing - than it first appears to be. The game is adorable, with its bouncy-squishy hero, plump little enemies, and cheerful music. And the design is such a clear homage to classic retro 16-bit style side scrollers like New Zealand Story, when I first plunged into Whipseey I expected an easy stroll (or “scroll”) down memory lane. I had a baseball game playing on my phone next to my gaming monitor, and music playing through my smart speaker. And that was fine, at first. I watched the hero transform from a boy into whatever Whipseey is, exactly, and I spent a few minutes learning how the whip works, and the mechanics of jumping and swimming. The game provided some easy goomba-like enemies at the start, so I whipped them, and they dropped coins. I also jumped and landed on one, and he flipped over into a helpless state for a few seconds. Then he righted himself and resumed his patrol. Thanks to my whip, that was his last mistake. More coins for me!
Everything rolled along smoothly like this, as I nodded smugly as familiar-feeling foes, map features, and attacks presented themselves. I surmounted them all easily because, you know, I’ve played a few platformers in my time. All gamers have.
But then … then I started swimming. My path through Whipseeyland led into a water level. And just like back in the day, you need to think fast and learn how to swim while dodging enemy aquatic life and other hazards. And like in old NES classics, swimming is tricky and dangerous. The swimming mechanics in Whipseey are unique in my experience, abrupt-feeling with less “drift” after each “kick” (or whatever propulsion method Whipseey uses when you press the jump button underwater).
Some underwater enemies just knock out one of your health segments, so you can survive a few hits. But not the spikes. No, those wicked, vicious spikes that cling to the underwater walls are silent killers just waiting for the slightest physical contact with Whipseey to instantly revoke one of his lives. There’s a special kind of agony when you’ve cleared all the enemies, and all that remains to beat the room is to swim past some spikes and out the door, and you’re almost to the door, and you barely touch a spike, and you die. And that was your last life. Sometimes the margin of error between success and failure is very, very small. Like less than one Whipseey-width.
After several spike-deaths drained all my lives and sent me back to the beginning of the map yet again, I saw Whipseey in a new light. I could see through the cuteness on the surface, into the in-your-face challenge that lies at the heart of this game. It’s much more challenging than I expected. At first glance, Whipseey looks like family-friendly platformers from the old days, but it plays more like Castlevania or Black Tiger, which were decidedly darker and more sinister games. This gives Whipseey a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde split personality, like a smiling doll possessed by an evil spirit, which qualifies as fun by my standards.
The backstory is light on details, but that’s ok, it doesn’t lessen the games appeal. After discovering a magical book, a young boy is whisked away to Whipseeyland, where he transforms into Whipseey, a squishy, bouncy, pink little sprite with round feet and a whip. Not just any whip, a pink whip with a ball at the end. This whip is multi-functional: use it to strike enemies, swing from special grab points (shown as pink circles), and spin it like a helicopter to glide down from jumps and high positions. When you defeat enemies with your whip, they drop coins. Grab those coins. Grab them all because 100 coins earns you an extra life, which you will need to master this challenging game.
Your quest takes you across a storybook map through uncharted yet familiar landscapes: the beach, a cave, a forest, a desert, a frozen tundra, a castle. They all provide beautiful and interesting settings for your life-or-death struggle to return to your world and regain your human form.
Even though I was a little frustrated by the early water levels and some other early-level challenges - looking at you, flaming tiki heads by a waterfall - eventually, through repetition, those challenges grew easier and easier until I barely noticed them on my way back to the latest room where I keep dying. And this is a big part of Whipseey, as it was with most classic and retro platformers: overcoming challenges to reach newer challenges. And Whipseey, as a game, pulls no punches. There are no checkpoints; lose a life, go back to the start of the current room. Lose all your lives? Back to the beginning of the map. It’s all about mastery through repetition. It’s frustrating at times, but that’s what makes the eventual victory so sweet.
I suggest you get Whipseey and try it for yourself. It’s challenging-but-satisfying gameplay and throwback design are a good mix for skilled and experienced gamers.