The Floor is Jelly was singlehandedly made by Ian Snyder, a student at the Kansas City Art Institute. According to his Tumblr, he started working on The Floor is Jelly as a diversion from a "serious" game he was working on for the Super Friendship Club Justice Pageant, but The Floor is Jelly eventually took on a life of its own and became a finalist in the 2013 Independent Games Festival's Student Showcase. And now, it's a fully realized game that you can pick up for 10 bucks through the Humble Bundle Store.
Honestly, I only heard about The Floor is Jelly a couple weeks ago when someone posted the launch trailer on Reddit. It piqued my interest enough to check out Snyder's dev blog and read a couple of his interviews. After that, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of it. I wasn't disappointed.
The Floor is Jelly is exactly what it looks like – a platformer where you bounce around in a world made entirely out of jelly. I'm not sure if the title is just a placeholder that stuck, or if it's part of the "exactly what it says on the tin" trend indie games have been taking lately – like Don't Starve or Sir, You Are being Hunted, but it's honestly the best possible name because it tells you literally everything you need to know about it to play. There's no power-ups and no hidden abilities, just a world of non-Newtonian fluid for you to bounce around and explore. Throughout the game, there are 31 doors hidden just off screen that lead to secret houses with computers in them. When you access the computers, you have five options: HELP, LOOK, INV, WWW, SET, CRED, and EXIT. I won't spoil what each does (even though CRED and EXIT should be fairly obvious), but my second playthrough of the game has been my attempts to unlock the mystery of SET, which can only be unlocked once you have found all 31 houses.
The Floor is Jelly feels like it could be Proteus and Fez's lovechild. It's especially easy to compare it to Fez, since they were both one-man projects that are meditations on the nature of video games. But where Fez is a mental meditation that focuses on puzzles, Jelly is experiential. Like Proteus, Jelly is about exploring a world that seems to have been created solely for your amusement. Discovering their secrets involve physically looking around every corner and pushing yourself through the environment to see what's on the other side. To put it another way, Proteus and Fez are like a fully constructed LEGO Deathstar set you see on display at the mall – it's fun to look at because of how huge and intricate it is. The Floor is Jelly is like that footlocker of mismatched LEGO you kept in your closet – you use your experience and imagination to build your own Deathstar, figuring out how your vision would complete itself as you went along. And like every other LEGO magnum opus, as soon as it's fully realized it gets broken down and returned to the footlocker.
Snyder gave my favorite description of The Floor is Jelly in an interview with Gamasutra:
"I'd say it has a focus on the kinetic or sensory experience of the player – it's an experiential platformer ... I want the game to be really rewarding to the kind of player who pokes at the holes in the corners of their universe until it unravels."
The Floor is Jelly cuts out a lot of the cerebral elements most games carry. It has very little dialogue, even less story, and absolutely no character development. You aren't even given a name for your little jumping avatar. Because of its experiential nature, the only way you can learn about the world is to dive headfirst into it, which brilliantly opens up communication between the game and the player. By poking and prodding your way through the world, it teaches you necessary rules like "spikes will kill me" and "flowers like the rain." If you pay close attention, you'll be able to figure out how each level with a hidden door betrays it's secret.
The Floor is Jelly is a beautiful game that's lot of fun to play. The soundtrack by Disasterpeace (who also did the music for Fez) is excellent, and really matches the aesthetic of the game. The difficulty curve through The Floor is Jelly has a smooth pace, with very few intense difficulty spikes. When you're met with a difficult challenge, it's usually due to a change in gameplay that requires you to think differently instead of the puzzles suddenly becoming impossible to solve. At least, until you get to the later stages where you have to pull off some platforming maneuvers that would be demanding even if you were doing them on solid ground. And things get really crazy in the final world. I can't go into too much detail without spoiling it, but I can say that every time I completed a set of stages I felt an entertaining mixture of "I can't believe I just got through that" and "Oh God, what fresh hell is this?"
As much as I loved The Floor is Jelly, there are a few things missing from its formula. First and foremost, there's no gamepad integration. Maybe it's just me, but I'm more comfortable platforming with a controller in my hand instead of a set of arrow keys and a spacebar. Second, a map would be a really handy. I'm currently on my second playthrough so I can hopefully find all of the secret houses. When I began painstakingly taking every path and jumping off every ledge, I was wishing for a map – if only to keep track of secrets I had already found. The doors you haven't entered yet are highlighted, which is helpful, but if you want to go back through each world a second time, you pretty much have to draw your own map.
The biggest problem with The Floor is Jelly is the glitches. I have mixed feelings about this because most of the glitches I encountered didn't negatively effect the gameplay. Actually, they sort of added to its charm. Every so often I would clip through a platform and end up on the other side, which actually encouraged me to bounce up and down all the walls to see if I could trigger a glitch, especially if a puzzle had me stumped. And that's kind of what the game is about: "poking holes in the corners of [the] universe."
While most of the glitches were harmless and fun, there are unfortunately game-stopping problems. Many times when I was poking around looking for glitches I found exactly what I was looking for and got stuck inside a wall. Thankfully, the game saves every time you enter a new room, so restarting doesn't hurt your progress any. But it started getting on my nerves pretty quickly. Also, I experienced a game-breaking glitch that completely halted my progress: a gateway that I had opened wouldn't let me through. Thankfully, Snyder is really active on Twitter and makes his contact info readily available on his website, so it was easy to contact him and figure out how to fix the problem without losing my save data.
In short, The Floor is Jelly is beautiful, smart and it's got a great sense of humor. If it was a sentient being I'd become close friends with it and spend months working up the courage to ask it out for a cup of coffee. I love it's sense of exploration and the simple joy of bouncing around to see if there are any secrets hidden just off screen. I can only hope that there are plans to patch the few glaring errors in an otherwise amazing game.
I've spent an embarrassing percentage of my life planted in front of a screen. I'm pretty sure I know the layout of Planet Zebes better than my own home town, and most of my social life in high school revolved around Halo 2 and Super Smash Brothers. When I wasn't on a console I was playing every ROM I could get my mitts on.
These days I spend most of my time with games made by small studios, because they tend to make what I'm interested in playing. I love developers that experiment with new mechanics, write challenging and immersive narratives, and realize that a game's aesthetics are more than it's graphics. So long story short-you'll see a lot of posts from me about Kickstarter campaigns and Early Access debuts.