Leap Year

PC

There are the times when a particular game can feel exactly right. That’s my sense of Leap Year, a small but near-perfectly formed puzzle platformer that – despite its surface simplicity – possesses unique mechanics and ideas. It is a small and manageable package, belying some extraordinary smarts.

The conceit is peculiar. It’s February 2024, and the daily pages of that month’s calendar are scattered around a crude platform world. Looking as though it were hand-drawn in Flash – the inelegance of the art part of Leap Year‘s subterfuge – your four-piece squared-off character is charged with gathering all the pages again. That’s it. It’s just… it’s just that jumping is really dangerous.

Our little guy can jump up about twice his height, but he can only survive falling once his height. The game is, like most platformers, built in blocks. It’s a bit more literal here as you can hold down left or right trigger to put a grid over the screen to really underline this fact. So simply jumping on the spot is deadly. This defines your tactical approach to Leap Year‘s intricately crafted contiguous levels, where jumping upward is essential for getting around, until you begin to learn other properties of the effects of height. I’m being deliberately ambiguous, because even giving the first example is a massive spoiler.

You’ll gather the first dozen pages with relative ease, the pace slowing as you progress and your understanding of these same collection of screens develops. That’s what’s quite so special here: you’re running around the same levels, but encountering them entirely differently, and yet – crucially – you haven’t gained a single new ability. Just understanding.

The final twist is brilliant, revealing that the whole game was far more cleverly designed than you could ever have known, even though I just said so. At the start Leap Year feels like a crude and simplistic platform game, with the novelty of the lethal jump. By the end it is realised as such a complex and superbly crafted little creation, one I’ve admired as much as I’ve enjoyed.

Leap Year describes itself as a “clumsy platformer”, but don’t be fooled. Nor indeed put off. Developer Daniel Linssen is being mischievously modest, because beneath its clumsy presentation and opening gambits, this is anything but. It’s actually rather brilliant.

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3 Comments

  1. Just stumbled upon your site, John (long long-time RPS reader!) and what a delight to find you writing about indies.
    I saw this get mentioned somewhere else the other day. My interest is piqued. Thanks for the review.

  2. This is a great find! A Metroidvania that only ever upgrades knowledge, does everything it needs to do in a couple of hours, and still packs in lots of surprises and some superb design.

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