I did that dumb Dark Side of the Rainbow thing back in high school – the thing where you play Dark Side of the Moon while watching Wizard of Oz. Thanks to the El Paso public education system, I got to sit there in my AP English class and be sometimes thrilled about the way that every now and then, infrequently but frequently enough to thrill, a musical cue would match perfectly with what was on screen. And my brain would freak the hell out.
We've all been assured that it's all just coincidence, but I'm easily amused enough that when an on-screen action is informed and led by the music, it still gets me. And that's basically the idea behind 140 – a whole game based on going along with the musical cues that inform how the levels behave.
Which translates mostly into levels with a looping electronic score (that I can't for the life of me remember – maybe not the best sign for a game with music as the focus?) that evolves a little as you get further, and so do the gimmicks in each level. It starts from a simple "jump over stuff", then turns into "jump over stuff....to the BEAT."
140 is a slight little nothing of a game based entirely on that one thing. It's a couple of hours long, and it really doesn't change much in that time. These platforms disappear to the beat, this thing launches you to it, etc., and that winds up making it revolve around things like disappearing block puzzles a whole lot. It's like an entire game based around the most annoying ideas from Megaman games, only now it's set to a universal music timer instead.
The best rhythm games are all about making you hit that groove where your actions mesh with the beat and what you're seeing on the screen and what you're hearing and what you're doing with your hands, all combining and forming this big wonderful ball of an Experience. And 140 never gave me that feeling. In fact, even with the music, it just felt like a bare-bones platformer where instead of other obstacles, it's all about you counting 1, 2, 3, 4.
But it also never really caught me on the level of being a good platformer either. It's not that it's bad, it's just very passable. There are issues with later effects, specifically one where gravity would reverse, that were more difficult (also, and maybe this is me being stupid, but I couldn't get a good feel for the music in that spot and when the switches would go), but the actual platforming otherwise is mostly passable.
Only in the end-of-level boss battle-type things do you actually have a chance to do anything different, based around a different gimmick that's not used anywhere else. This level you can shoot stuff, this level you're stuck around a box and have to dodge and shoot things! And honestly if there were more ideas like this, interspersed much more frequently around the game, I'd enjoy it more. They break up the sub-par platforming with something that actually is interesting and a more unique challenge than just "hey this platform moved!!! TO THE BEAT!"
I also didn't like how the checkpointing in each level meant that if you stopped playing you'd just have to restart the whole level. That could be beause I didn't really like the levels, so having to replay them felt like I was being unduly punished more than anything.
The stark graphics, though, are rather beautiful, all flat colors, hard edges, no borders. It's one of those things we don't really see enough in games – we have these TVs that can produce all of these colors, but we so often stick to very narrow pallets. I mean, colors are beautiful! The harsh yellows and blues in front of a pulsing grey background, so strongly standing apart from each other, very clearly showing static and dynamic elements. I sure loved looking at the game, and a version that played out automatically as a visualizer, well that would be probably my favorite thing.
There have been other games that have tried to do the whole "music and platforms tied together" thing, but usually they're gimmicks for a stage or two, breaking up the game instead of being the entire focus. Despite how short the game is, it maybe emphasizes why the other games use this idea to break it up - the concept never really evolves or grows in any way, and with the platforming so basic, there's really not much else here to dig into. It winds up being a rhythm game with disposable musical elements, a platformer with uninteresting mechanics.