Camera Obscura – What We Think:
Camera Obscura is a retro platformer that tries to recreate the simplicity we remember from the SNES era while still providing something new. Given how many retro-flavored platform games we’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’s hard to imagine another one game making it big in this market. But Anteater Games aren’t trying to make it big; they’re just after giving the player a cozy, relaxed feeling.
As with any platformer, the movement and mechanics will define your experience with the game. Camera Obscura starts out as a typical platformer, but quickly adds the aspect of copying the level onscreen and adding an afterimage over the top.
While we have seen variations on the theme in games like P.B. Winterbottom, Braid, Gateways or even Teslagrad, I never felt like Camera Obscura takes it far enough to be expansive to the genre – you mostly only use the afterimage to jump a slightly wider gap or reach a slightly higher ledge. Using the mechanic to create actual puzzles way would have made the game far more interesting.
Failing to use the new mechanic to its fullest, combined with environments that feel very brownish and similar to one another, makes Camera Obscura feel quite repetitive and boring in longer sessions. If, on the other hand, you only play a level or two every now and then, it doesn’t get boring – though it is still not the best-looking retro game.
Camera Obscura’s character and controls feel kind of clunky at times, too; they’re far from the smooth, easy-to-handle controls we’ve gotten used to from other platform titles. Combined with the timing mechanics, this can make the game frustratingly hard. Despite all this, Camera Obscura manages to be a relaxed platforming game – two concepts rarely found next to each other.
The game comes with 57 levels, all being storeys of a high tower. I will not go further into this since the story itself is connected to the tower, and for being such a small project, Camera Obscura manages to create a unique and interesting premise throughout via short pieces of text scattered throughout the levels.
Sadly, the visuals in the game as a whole and connected to the story bring the game down a notch. Having 57 stories of a tower is an interesting concept on paper, but translated into 57 levels of the same brownish shade, Camera Obscura doesn’t come close to its potential.
The same goes for story pieces, all of which are plain white text on squares that are supposed to look like a photographs. Had they given the player nice pictures to go with the text, it would have made a good story that much greater.
The relaxed feeling in Camera Obscura comes mostly from its great soundtrack. Every piece of music fits perfectly with its environment and the slower tempo of the game. Even if you’re unsure about getting the game – which does have a very low price tag – getting it along with the soundtrack will at least give you some good background music.
While the game levels feel quite boring and similar to each other – both in gameplay and graphics – Camera Obscura does come with a level editor, and playing the levels created by other people is the best way to enjoy the game. While there are a lot of trash maps out there, some player-created levels are far better than the ones in the game itself.
Camera Obscura has its kinks when it comes to controls and lacks variation, but in short sessions it gives you a calm, cozy feeling that you might need after a hard day’s work. It also comes with a relaxing soundtrack that manages to not only stand on its own, but surpasses the game itself.
Both the game and the soundtrack come with a very low price tag. I would really have liked to have seen more variation and better use of the “after-image” mechanics, but let’s hope for a sequel that does everything right. While we wait, we can listen to the soundtrack for this one.
Camera Obscura is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Camera Obscura below: