Indie Platformer Marathon: BasketBelle

BasketBelle was something of a surprise. I remember seeing some screenshots and a trailer or two when it was released nearly a year ago, but I didn’t actually pick it up. I’d read that it was very short and rather odd. But then it showed up in the Indie Royale Harvest bundle a few months later, along with several other games I was interested in, so I picked up the pack. Deciding that a shorter game was just what I needed after the constantly exploding Explodemon!, I decided to slot it next in the Marathon.

And I’m glad I did, because BasketBelle is really something special.

BasketBelle is, of course, a game about basketball. And the first thing you’ll notice when you fire it up is how beautiful it is. The visuals are styled as if cut and assembled from cardboard, and everything is animated wonderfully, giving the game a unique and memorable look. But the audio is equally beautiful. Synths fill the air as the protagonist takes to the court, washing over the ears with a wave of sound. Then, he starts to dribble, and the ball hits the ground with a huge kick drum beat, perfectly timed to the music. The rhythms of basketball are in the very foundations of the sound, and they’re felt as much as they’re heard. When going for a jump shot, these big beats cut out, and it feels like the game itself is holding its breath, waiting for the shot (a feeling aided by other subtle cues, including slight slow motion and related sound effects). It’s something to behold.

The story is simple, and strange, centered around the protagonist’s bonding with his little sister Belle through games of basketball. And also playing basketball against weird purple creatures in the streets of Paris. I don’t want to spoil too much of what happens, because I found it to be quite affecting. It’s not common to see themes related to family in games, and it’s downright rare to see any theme executed as well as it is here. And basketball itself is an ever-present theme too, mixed into the gameplay in surprisingly varied ways. Sometimes I had to use my basketball moves to navigate simple platforming levels, other times I was solving puzzles to clear a path for a clean shot at the basket, and still others I was testing the defense of my strange purple opponents, looking for weaknesses. After finishing the game I followed the included link to the “making of” video, and learned that developer studioBEAN (aka Michael Molinari) decided not to design the later stages of the game until the earlier sections were completely finished. This way he was able to explore some very different gameplay ideas at different points in the story, without getting locked into anything too early.

Some players will balk at paying $5 for a game that can be finished in less than an hour. But BasketBelle is actually the perfect length. It’s not the kind of game that would work well when spread over multiple sessions (although it’s easy to pick up where you left off if you do have to split it up). It’s a full arc, best followed straight from beginning to end. I even found myself going through a second time, just to see (and hear) it all again. As the developer said in his video, he didn’t want to waste the player’s time; there’s no filler, just exactly what’s needed, and it makes for a truly memorable experience. Plus, the price includes the soundtrack, concept art with notes, and access to the aforementioned video, which might help sweeten the deal for those on the fence.

If you’re on the fence, you should get off it. I highly recommend BasketBelle, and I guarantee it won’t be like anything else you’ve ever played.

EDIT: The Indie Platformer Marathon is now complete! See all the posts here.

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