GDC '08: JellyCar Hands-On

We check out a demo version of this bouncy, XNA-based puzzler that's bounding its way onto Xbox Live Arcade later this year.

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SAN FRANCISCO--If you download the JellyCar demo via the limited-time XNA Creator's Club offering, don't let its simple menu screen fool you. There's an unusually giddy game to be found here, and it was created using the Microsoft development tools touted at GDC this year. We had a chance to check out a good number of levels for this squishy puzzle game, and had to suppress a number of giggles in the process.

The concept is really quite simple: You maneuver a car in two dimensions to and fro by using the controller's triggers while you cross a number of different obstacles. The catch? Everything acts like it's made of gelatin. Your car bounces off of similarly jellied platforms, walls, and other sundry artifacts, and you need to use these bounces to your advantage. To further aid your progress, you can transform your vehicle for a limited time to a much larger size, which helps you cross certain areas, knock over obstacles, and generally wallow in goopiness.

These simplistic visuals belie a game that's as challenging as it is bouncy.
These simplistic visuals belie a game that's as challenging as it is bouncy.

Aside from the tutorial, we made our way with various degrees of success across the seven included levels. Each presented a unique challenge, such as the Crusher level, which featured blocks that moved up and down like pistons. It was fun to make our way across, even though we were squashed along the way. However, it was a greater obstacle to perform the necessary moves to get on top of the blocks and make our way back, given that we had to time our reverses just right and transform at just the perfect moment. The whole time, we watched in delight as our car got flattened and bounced around like a water balloon.

Another favorite was Kerplunk, which was like a big, bulbous game of Plinko. We tried to finesse our way past the spindles and to the target using the transformation button to our advantage, though it took several tries to manage it. As we made our way to the later levels, though, the inherent difficulty in some of the tasks presented to us became quite apparent. In the Platformer level, we struggled to control the bouncing as we made our way across a series of moving platforms, whereas the Circus level forced us to push rolling pinwheels in various ways in order to reach the heights needed to escape the trenches. Factory was our favorite, though, if only because a giant hook reached down to grab us, and we had to transform to be large enough for it to grasp us in its lone claw.

JellyCar's visual and sound design is minimal but effective. The background looks like a big, crumpled piece of graph paper, and the car and platforms give the effect of being scribbled on the page with crayons. All the bounces are accompanied by a charming, and potentially repetitive, collection of bloops and plops. We aren't yet sure when the full version will reach Xbox Live Arcade, but GameSpot will bring you news as it develops.

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