Nearly Serene

HIGH Transforming robobugs are awesome. The chill, early exploration.

LOW The Time Trials.

WTF Some of the hidden skins are ridiculously hard to get.

Coming out of nowhere, Glyph stars a small spherical robot of the same name set loose in a series of semi-abstract worlds with desert and ‘ancient ruin’ theming. It’s a nice surprise offering the kind of kinetic movement play that we don’t get much of in the modern era, and it comes quite close to being a real gem.

The story is slight, but tells of a lost civilization being excavated and researched by robots like Glyph. He meets up with another bugbot in each level to get a brief history lesson and a hint pointing towards hidden items. There’s not much storytelling here, but it’s a nice flavor nonetheless.

During play, Glyph stays mostly in ball shape and can jump, double jump, ground pound to bounce higher, and can also unfold into a scarab-like insect to glide short distances and get a slight airtime boost. With these tools at his disposal, he’ll be tackling two sorts of levels — Exploration and Time Trial.

The Exploration levels are the meat and potatoes of the experience, and my personal favorite. Each one is a series of blocks, buildings and ramps that Glyph must navigate to collect coins, gems and artifacts. There’s also a cosmetic skin hidden in each level, although these are sometimes absurdly difficult to get.

I love the early exploration levels because they’re peaceful – it’s almost Zen-like to get an overview of an area, see the objectives, and go after each one at my own pace. The physics in Glyph are good and fairly generous in some ways, like the ability to cling to vertical surfaces and being able to adjust momentum while mid-air.

I also found the clean, well-lit (almost minimalist) levels to be strong in their visual design. There’s no clutter and just enough in each zone to suggest a world gone by without being too distracting or visually noisy. I had a great time combing through these places for items while bouncing, leaping and gliding, and there’s much joy in simply moving Glyph around.

If this content was all Glyph had to offer, it would have ultimately ranked a bit higher with me, but difficulty tarnishes things a bit.

Past the campaign’s halfway point, the Exploration levels start to get actively annoying with tiny platforms, spikes and similar hazards. Also, each level requires the player to collect a certain number of keys and reach an endpoint without dying, and there were several times when I’d have all the keys but one, hit something I shouldn’t, and then have to do it all again. Zen-like, this was not.

Worse than that are the Time Trial levels. These are the exact opposite of the Exploration levels in that they’re small, often have one optimal path, and they force the player to get through them under stringent time limits. I found that the precision maneuvers needed to succeed were difficult to pull off, and retrying a run ten, fifteen, twenty times (or more!) and still coming up short wasn’t something I was in the market for.  

In practice, going back and forth between the Exploration and Time Trial sections is a wild and unwelcome swing in tone – it’s almost like playing Picross or Sudoku, but every three or four levels some frenetic Doom pops up. These two sides of the experience don’t complement each other well, and I wanted to interact with the Time Trials as little as possible. Sadly, it’s impossible to ignore them altogether – at a certain point Glyph needs the items they hold and there’s no way around it.

Apart from the mere existence of the Time Trials, my only real complaint is that depth perception can sometimes feel a bit off, especially when going after items that are suspended in the air. There were a handful of times when I’d swear I was heading dead-on to grab a gem or a coin, only to whiff it over and over again. Luckily, this sort of spatial confusion doesn’t crop up too often, but it’s a bugger when it does.

If there was a version of this game that let players skip the Time Trials or required only minimal engagement with them, I would have no problem recommending this mechanical bug’s shenanigans to anyone looking for the kind of physics-based environmental exploration that we just don’t see a lot of these days. I honestly enjoyed my time with Glyph and found it to be a welcome surprise… I just wish that I didn’t have to include so many caveats when recommending it.  

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bolverk Games. It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. (But I’m close to the end!) There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains no descriptors. This game is totally safe — no salty language, no sex, no violence… it’s just a robo-bug bouncing around the desert. All good!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Dialogue comes via text. Text size cannot be resized or altered. there are no audio cues needed for play, and I spent almost my entire time with Glyph on mute and had no issues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The L stick moves Glyph, the R stick moves the camera. B is jump, Y is ground pound, ZL is to glide.

Brad Gallaway
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