Ladder Man Platform categoryPuzzle category

Title screen from Ladder Man

ex·cru·ci·at·ing /ikˈskro͞oSHēˌātiNG
1. Intensely painful.
2. Mentally agonizing; very embarrassing, awkward, or tedious

Example:
Ladder Man has an original idea, but it plays so cumbersomely that it is excruciating.

Ladder Man is one of those classically stripped-down puzzle games that doesn’t have a plot as much as an arbitrary premise, self-described here as a “mindscape” game. You play as a man whose sole means of jumping, climbing, and otherwise going upwards is with ladders that he carries around (why and for what purpose? He’s the goddamn Ladder Man). Ladder Man’s goal is to collect the yellow diamonds and climb out of the ceiling, which usually involves negotiating a maze of floating movable blocks, fireplaces, gondolas, and shallow pools of water. Occasionally, levels will include powerups that extend your ladders or create floating platforms.

Screenshot from Ladder Man

Ladder, rinse, repeat

Make no mistake: I love the nonsensical-environmental-puzzles genre. Chip’s Challenge is still an all-time favorite. But Ladder Man is no substitute for that, simply because it isn’t fun. The game moves at a subglacial pace, requiring huge chunks of time for even the simplest tasks.

Consider this example puzzle: Ladder Man needs to get a block that’s floating one tile above him to the other side of the room. To do so, he needs to stand next to the block and put his ladder down (triggering his lengthy ladder-climbing animation). Then he climbs up to the block’s level, moves it one tile, and slowly falls down. The entire process can take about 3 seconds. Repeat this every time you need to move the block. Add in another step or two if the block is an extra space or two above you.

It takes forever. And that’s all there is. Outside the tutorial, most levels don’t have any other objects or powerups besides pushable blocks.

Puzzle games aren’t necessarily about fast pace, but they’re about speed and accessibility. You need to get feedback about decisions quickly. Simple actions like movement shouldn’t take longer than a simple key press. There’s nothing wrong with the ladder concept; Soleau Software has solidly executed odd puzzle concepts before and after this, and in theory, they could have put together some interesting platforming puzzles the idea. Ladder Man is just the wrong, wrong, wrong way to go about that.

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