A Pea’s Chance In Hell

HIGH The giant bug boss chase is a welcome thrill.

LOW Endless, inexplicable deaths.

WTF I was killed six times by an invisible obstacle.

Sometimes, more often than I’d like to consider, a game just doesn’t get there. It’s perfectly obvious what the developer had in mind — they had a concept, they made assets, they designed the flow of play, but when they put it all together, it just… flops.

Sweet Pea is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It wants to be a single-button race game. The player controls a pea that is shaken loose from its pod and must go on an adventure through a fantasy realm. This journey involves racing from left to right across the screen, avoiding obstacles and beasts. Well, that’s ideally the goal – in practice the controls are so wonky that any success will be more to luck than anything else.

The issues start with the camera, which is far too close to the action. Players have to race forward at a decent clip if they want to make it over the many deadly jumps, but doing so means that danger will arrive more quickly than they’ll be able to effectively react to. I died countless times by slamming into monsters a tenth of a second after they appeared onscreen, and no matter how often I restarted a level, I wasn’t able to find a reliable way to avoid these sudden ends.

In most games that use this basic formula — the Sonic series, especially — players are expected to memorize the layouts of levels so that they might anticipate enemies before they appear. Sweet Pea, unfortunately, makes this nearly impossible. Enemies frequently move in unpredictable patterns, making it tough to plan on their position in advance. Even worse, levels are loaded with foreground elements that block the player’s view of Sweet Pea, creating situations where it’s possible to die without having any idea what caused that death.

Sweet Pea offers an array of powers that are designed to make conquering levels a little easier, but for a number of reasons they just aren’t particularly effective. Being able to lunge forward at high speed is great, but doing so only exacerbates the issues with running into unexpected obstacles. The most useful power is temporarily freezing deadly water into ice that can be traversed. Unfortunately, the controls are so unreliable that it’s possible to wind up stuck at the bottom of a ledge, unable to jump high enough to get back onto dry land before the ice reverts to liquid. Sometimes the ice doesn’t even work and Sweet Pea will fall straight through it for no particular reason.

Adding insult to injury, instead of operating on timers or a limited number of uses per level, every power costs a bottle of magic to use, and these must be found and collected within the levels — if the player doesn’t come across the bottles, they won’t get to use the powers. While there are plenty of bottles to be found, they’re not restored if the player dies, so it’s quite easy for a difficult level to drain the player’s resources and leave them barely able to progress.

Perhaps the most passionate argument against Sweet Pea‘s mechanics is made by the game itself in the form of tooltips when levels are loading — it’s impossible to read them without wondering how the developers didn’t take their own advice. After getting killed over and over again by unpredictable spiders, the game suggested that I use the item that removes all enemies from the level. How did the developer put that in the game without realizing the spiders themselves might be a problem? Why tell me that it might be a good idea to play the same level over and over again until I’d farmed enough power potions instead of simply making the power system work a little differently?

Sweet Pea just doesn’t have it. The art style is winningly crude and there are some thrills to be found in vaulting a pea through the air while escaping a hideous boss monsters. Sadly, those fleeting pleasures simply can’t make up for all of the awkward, frustrating gameplay that is most of the experience. Sweet Pea‘s problems run deep into its design, and it’s too bad that the developers weren’t able to get a better handle on things before launch.

Rating: 2.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Chris N. Tharp. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed.

Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, but it features Violence and Blood. I don’t know why a pea explodes into a cloud of red blood when killed, but the effect is so cartoony that it’s hard to imagine scarring anyone, although the drowning animation is surprisingly gruesome. Maybe save this one for older kids!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All vital info is provided via text. Text cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players control Sweet Pea by holding the keyboard’s space bar down to move forward and tapping on it to jump. Powers are employed by using a menu with the mouse.

Daniel Weissenberger
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