Whether it’s soaring through the skies in Flight Simulator or acting out criminal impulses in Grand Theft Auto, the promise of gaming isn’t just an escape from reality, it’s the opportunity to live out a dream. So for those of you with an unfulfilled fancy for being a beetle/ball/robot and bouncing/fluttering around a derelict, cursed temple, the wait is finally over.
Glyph is a ‘the floor is lava’-style, physics-based platformer, vaguely reminiscent of Monkey Ball sans singe or a lesser-known indie from 2020 called Crumble, though more of a philosophical older brother to- than a direct comparison with- either. You’re a robotic beetle that can curl into a ball, jump, bounce, ground pound, and fly a short distance, and with that limited set of skills, you’re supposed to restore the Temple City of Aaru to its former glory, and destroy the source of corruption once and for all. Sounds easy enough?
Well, it ain’t. This place is a mess, and the cleanup requires you to pass through a pretty daunting collection of exploration and time trial challenges, unlocking (or restoring) new sections of the temple as you go. Exploring will likely be the bulk of your playtime, as there are collectibles to be gathered and some relatively massive areas to bounce around, areas which are increasingly occupied by hazards - from traps and spikes to sandfalls, spinning blades and giant, articulated, flying worm-beasts - the further you progress. Time trials tend to be superficially simpler; collect three keys and make it to a portal in time or a gold/silver/bronze rating, but therein lies the beauty of Glyph. It makes every test seem ever-so-slightly more achievable than it really is, so you can’t help but have another go.
It’s quick to pick up and keeps you from putting it down, but it is not a casual jaunt. Yes, you can play it in 15-minute increments, and later in the game you might need to limit yourself for mental health reasons, but this game is a proper challenge. What begins as a relatively forgiving series of paths and obstacles quickly descends into some of the trickiest platforming I’ve played in years, and a good blend of dexterity and patience is key. At first the learning curve feels steep but before long, you become surprisingly effective at judging long distance leaps and making delicate adjustments to your trajectory, and nailing a particularly tough level provides that giddy combo of satisfaction and relief.
Testament to the quality of the game design and consistency of the controls is the fact that - even though you spend a lot of time failing and repeating sections of each level - it’s rarely mundane or unfair. On my original Switch in handheld mode I experienced some very occasional slowdown (which when it occurs it just ruins you) but mercifully that’s not often enough to become a sticking point - for me anyway.
In fact, it has a bit of everything. There’s the cheerful but useless guide Anobi who pops up from time-to-time with a treasure clue or piece of trivia for you to (probably) ignore. Collectibles grant you cosmetic changes to either your appearance or the trail you leave behind, which are essentially pointless but quite charming (the biplanes are a particular fav), and just barely desirable enough to make you work for them. There’s even a boss battle at the end which, though quite easy in comparison with some of the later levels, provides a nice conclusion to the story.
The only gripe I have - one that’s perhaps indicative of how coddled I am by modern games and their over-friendliness - is the spike in difficulty of the later exploration challenges. The fact that most pickups are carried over between deaths helps, but bizarrely they chose not to extend that same charity to the cosmetic ‘avatars’, which can be the trickiest things to get your hands(?) on. It means that navigating the landscape, collecting keys to unlock the exit portal AND seeking out the avatar all need to be done in one, clean run, which can be laughably complex and excruciatingly tense.
For me, that small detail flipped Glyph from serious challenge to serious pain in the ass on more than a few occasions, but I only mention it because it seems like an obvious (and patchable) flaw in an otherwise beautifully balanced little platformer. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment or hinder me reaching the end, but I take my hat off to anyone who manages to 100% it, and whether you’re a casual like me or a completionist with a point to prove, there’ll be something to love about being a bouncy beetle.