STAFF REVIEW of Talent Not Included (Xbox One)

Friday, April 21, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Talent Not Included Box art There was once a time when platformers were king, and both Mario and Donkey Kong were at the forefront of it all. Hell, following the successes of both Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. the genre (and those titles) essentially became synonymous with the term video games. However, that was then and this is now, and these days people tend to think of shooters like Call of Duty when they first imagine video games, leaving the once insanely popular platforming genre behind.

Of course platformers are still around, and we've gotten some great ones in recent years, including New Super Mario Bros. U, the retro inspired Shovel Knight, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. That said, while two of the above-mentioned three happen to be first-party, triple-A games, it’s indie developers that are mostly to thank for keeping the genre’s pulse going.

One of the latest releases from this long line of indie platformers is Talent Not Included, which just made its way to Xbox One after stops on both PC and Mac. We’re lucky to have it too, because Frima’s new indie is a rather enjoyable – albeit quite challenging and occasionally frustrating – experience.

Talent Not Included takes us to the fictional land of Notthatmuchfurther, where three insanely bored monsters named Derp, Zordok and Kevin have decided to write and produce their own zany play. The trio sees this exercise as a chance to cure their boredom, but it’s also a way to justify everything that happens in-game, as crazy as it may be. This includes a knight who fights for a spell caster’s helmet, a rogue who loves muscles and a mage who is awfully good at teleporting.

To mimic a play's structure, the campaign is separated into three acts, each of which forces the player to use a different hero. On top of that, each individual protagonist has its own play style, story, and special ability, forcing you to change your approach each and every time. Said acts aren’t insanely lengthy, nor is the game, but you're looking at fifteen stages per act, including a few quality boss battles. As a whole, this all culminates in a game that will take you about three to four hours to finish, so long as you’re able to best its three increasingly difficult chapters and say goodbye to their culminating final boss battle.

Don’t think of Talent Not Included as a side-scrolling, Mario-style platformer though, because it’s a different beast. In fact, its 2D stages are best thought of as challenges as opposed to levels, because that’s more in line with what they are. They’re always changing, increasingly difficult obstacle courses that you must best in order to move on.

When you imagine one of these scenes, think of a theatre’s stage. Lit up and ready for action, this wooden podium is home to multiple different props, all of which can deal death at any moment. From evil animals and shielded soldiers to repeatedly firing bullets and moving circular saw blades, there’s a whole heap of death dealers awaiting the hero’s flesh. Though, while they may be there at one point, nothing is ever permanent, as the course is constantly changing, even during the midst of each level.

As each of these three heroes, it’s our duty to get from point A to point B over and over again without dying. The goal? To score as many points as possible while doing so, in order to earn yourself an even greater ovation, not to mention a special mask and an envious spot on the leaderboards. Getting to this point won't be easy though, as earning a high score requires you to collect the majority of each level's precariously placed candy pieces, kill all of its enemies, and pick up each of its occasionally available heart pieces.

When you start a scene, you’ll sometimes see some witty dialogue that references things in pop culture and gaming history in comedic ways. What you will always see though, is your chosen character amidst another (seemingly) random obstacle course. In front of you will be candy, and said sugar pieces will lead you to a large balloon, which, when touched, makes everything change. Do this multiple times, while avoiding the loss of each and every one of your hearts, and you’ll get applause. Fail to do so and it’s a restart for you. There are no checkpoints in Talent Not Included.

Expectedly, hearts mean the difference between life and death, and one disappears each time you get hit. More will appear from time to time, but the game is never all that generous; at least, not during its later and more challenging scenes. What’s also interesting, and awfully devious, is the fact that, with each progressive act the player gets fewer and fewer hearts, to the point where the mage only has three to work with. In comparison, the knight gets five, which will end up feeling like a ton after a while.

In order to succeed at all of the above, you’ll need to get good at using the knight, the rogue and the mage to your advantage. Sure, each one may be drastically different, but they all have abilities that will make your attempts easier. These include the knight’s horizontal dash, the rogue’s roll (and ability to shield herself momentarily), and the mage’s multi-directional teleportation. I’d also be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention walljumping, bullet bouncing and double-jumping as being other incredibly helpful options.

Those who don’t take advantage of the heroes’ unique abilities will quickly learn of their importance, because Talent Not Included is not an easy game. Hell, it’s pretty far from it, although not to the extent of Dark Souls or anything like that. It’s simply a challenging, often devious and sometimes frustrating platformer, which will never hold its players’ hands. As such, those who pick it up should be looking for a fight, as opposed to a cakewalk that they’ll be able to play in their sleep.

Everything about the game is colourful though, including the scenes, their backdrops and the action that takes place in front of them. It’s a nice, eye pleasing art style, which fits right in with the colourful text that is found in each and every one of the dialogue bubbles, not to mention the script itself. All of the above is tied up nicely too, thanks to the inclusion of a mumbling crowd who will often make their presence known.

Alas, if you’re a platforming fan who yearns for something challenging to play on their Xbox One, you can’t go wrong with Talent Not Included. It is a solid, difficult and funny experience, and definitely worth a play through, especially if you have a friend around for local co-op. Just don’t go in expecting anything groundbreaking or overly long, because it’s neither of those things.

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.4 / 10
Sound: 7.1 / 10


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