Thank goodness for independent developers. It’s often the “little guys” that bring us the fresh, unusual, or just plain bizarre titles that keep gaming interesting. And that’s certainly the case with Gish, the latest offering from Edmund McMillan and Chronic Logic. An impressive physics engine, quirky humor, and unique gameplay make this little gem well worth a look.
Gish is, at its heart, an old-school 2D platformer. Our Hero, Gish, sees his girlfriend kidnapped by Nefarious Ne’er-do-wells, and he’s off to the rescue. Unlike the typical mustachioed plumber or anthropomorphic animal, however, Gish just happens to be a blob of tar. A small, oozy blob of tar with a slightly maniacal grin. And fangs. This is really something that needs to be seen to be believed. In addition to the typical jumping and running…er, squelshing about, Gish is also granted the ability to change his consistency at will. Gish can change to a “heavy” form, gaining the ability to squish enemies, topple platforms, and crumble weakened structures. When the going gets a bit tight, Gish can take on a “slick” form, allowing him to squeeze easily into tiny cracks and crevices. And, perhaps the most useful trick, Gish can become “sticky”, allowing him to scale walls, hang from ceilings, and pull off some very clever manipulations of the scenery. Learning how to use these various abilities takes some practice, but before long Gish can pull off some truly amazing stunts.
These amazing stunts are made all the more impressive by an equally impressive physics engine. Just about everything in the game, from loose blocks to falling monsters to the sticky version of Gish, acts in a very natural way. Well, as natural as an animated ball of tar can really act. This “realistic” physics engine allows for some intuitive solving of puzzles—if it seems an action is possible, it probably is. In addition, many obstacles can be overcome by several different tactics, rather than the usual “one correct path” of many 2D platformers. Sometimes, however, this true physics engine can be a bit too good. I many times found myself unable to continue because some random motions have caused vital bits of scenery to crumble under their own weight, effectively stopping any forward progress. Since the monsters can interact with the environment just as easily as Gish, they many times knock over useful ledges or plug up necessary escape routes.
The control scheme in Gish is also quite good. Although a gamepad is recommended for play, I had no troubles using the tried-and-true keyboard. There is a bit of a learning curve in the control scheme, but the early levels ramp up the difficulty nicely, so the more advanced control skills don’t need to come into play until much later in the game. For those needing a bit more practice (or a bit of extra entertainment), there are some wonderful “Vs.” modes, offering everything from Tar Blob Wrestling to drag racing to a rather wacky version of football. There are also some fairly challenging Collection Mode mini-games, allowing players to further hone those Gish-y skills.
The main game levels are done quite well. The game comprises 5 chapters, each with a distinct play-style and theme, keeping the game fresh throughout its run. The graphics are sharp, but tend to be a little on the drab side. This fits with the theme of the levels, but there is certainly a dark tone. Gish himself looks great and moves fluidly, and I often found myself laughing at the joyful expressions that little ball of tar had when leaping merrily over a pool of lava. Like all good 2D games, Gish is packed with hard-to-reach places and secrets (some of which are very, very amusing). The game itself is a bit on the short side (probably about 5-10 hours for the first play-through), but with all the secrets and the Vs. and Collection modes, there’s plenty of material to keep Gishers happy.
Overall, Gish makes for a very enjoyable “old-school” romp. The fresh character ideas, great controls and physics interactions, and warped humor will provide several hours of entertainment. Gish won’t be for everyone—those who just don’t enjoy the 2D platformers of the “good old days” won’t find a lot here to change their mind. But for those needing a dose of nostalgia, or for those looking for something that can only be described as “unique”, Gish is worth a look.
The demo and full version of Gish are available direct from the developer at www.gishgame.com