How Ayo the Clown and Sunblaze represent retro

Two lesser-known Switch jump n' runs in the spotlight

Ayo the Clown! It’s fun to read and it’s fun to say. And, thankfully, it’s also fun to play. Now, I’ve got a predilection towards clown-based games (see Charly the Clown, Kid Klown in Crazy Chase, etc) so I was primed to be nice to Ayo, but thankfully it didn’t need my sympathy vote because it’s genuinely pretty good. And that makes me happy, because I like to highlight games that seem to have gone under the auld radar, so to speak.

Anyway it’s a platformer with some Yoshi’s Woolly World kind of vibes in its whimsical visuals and music, with stages that feel quite expansive and rammed with collectables while still being sufficiently challenging. Responsive controls, too, though Ayo can sometimes feel a little like he’s “catching” on the sides of platforms if you miss jumps. It’s mostly polished, though; attractive and just plain pleasant as Ayo makes his way through the 30 large levels gathering all sorts of Jelly Belly-looking beans and lollipops. He’ll knacker his teeth, so he will.

Look – the point is, this is the sort of thing that I feel defines me to some extent. You’d scroll past this on the eShop and instantly dismiss it as shovelware, but it isn’t. The game is very clearly made by people who understand what makes a platformer fun to play, and have delivered level after level of perfectly enjoyable hop n’ bop action. Is it a 10/10? Of course not, but I had more fun playing this than I did Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. And you know I mean it, too, don’tcha? God, I missed you, Nauties.

What we’ve got here is Sunblaze, a masocore style platformer that’s so demanding in terms of positioning that it feels more like a puzzler than anything else. The game initially takes place in a “superhero training simulator” sort of thing, which is basically an excuse for the somewhat interesting presentation of exceptionally tightly-designed platforming stages rather like something out of Super Meat Boy, but the larger size of your player character reminded me more of the lowered screen real estate of Game Boy games – this is no bad thing, because the compact nature of the moment-to-moment experience makes it all the more compelling, especially since (true to the subgenre) death causes you to revive basically instantly, with the world back in its original state.

This encourages experimentation as death is so frequent and not at all punishing; normally this isn’t really to my taste in a platform game but it suits the style of Sunblaze pretty much perfectly. It’s the supposed (and mostly incorrectly cited) “Nintendo hard” difficulty of classic games presented with the mod cons (responsive controls, speedy restarts) that make them palatable. Of course, being me, the whole “Nintendo hard” idea is a little erroneous to me – the hardest NES game is probably significantly easier than the simplest ZX Spectrum title – so the genesis of the “masocore” genre as being some manifestation of the way games used to be is a total miss.

Sunblaze, though, isn’t. It’s an enjoyable platformer that focuses on speed, flow and precision over aesthetics, but the presentation (not entirely unlike Stealth Inc.) is pretty good too. I enthusiastically recommend both it and the clown one, and I’ll try to bring you more coverage of retro-inspired games that don’t seem to get a lot of column inches elsewhere. It’s my duty as a weirdo with weird taste!