In a bleak, colourless, and pixelated world, one boy dares to defy the odds and embark on a journey he may not return from. Will the game lure you into this dangerous world filled with ghostlike beings and confusingly adorable blob thingies? Why, yes; yes it will. Is it worth spending all your precious time jumping and slashing away for hours on end? That - and the fate of some furry creatures scattered all over Hell to help you out - depends on you.

Catching the Snitch

In Mangavania, you play as Yuhiko, a young ninja who braves the Underworld to find a cure for his ailing brother. While I’m not sure what this odd sickness is that has befallen the aforementioned brother, the game doesn’t give you a lot of time to figure it out. The moment you “Tap to Play” from the loading screen, you instantly get dropped down onto a platform, ready to speed through all kinds of horrendous beings and puzzling challenges to get to...where you want to go. Which I’m not too sure where, exactly.

Then again, in side-scrolling games and action platformers, things aren’t always as black and white as they seem - literally and figuratively. Mangavania (I’m sorry; I still can’t get over the fact that the title could be better) doesn’t just move you along in one direction. As you leap and jump and slash your way through each stage, you’ll often need to revisit certain areas of the stage to grab keys and free cuddly little creatures just hanging around waiting to be saved. I would have loved to know what these adorable furries are doing in the Underworld - one of them even claims to have locked himself in, but denies hiding the key. It’s a nice touch to add a little bit of excitement into an otherwise repetitive game, as the main point is to free Snitch-esque “souls” hovering in the air in every stage to open doors and move on to the next area.

Falling to your death

I made it all the way through the end of the current version (the first chapter has ten stages), with Chapter 2 soon to be released. Thankfully, there’s this option where you can continue after each death, making things easier for clumsy players like me who have uncoordinated fingers slipping all over the place. I even sometimes used dying as a strategy in itself, slashing away to kill off an enemy and sacrificing a life so that the bad guy’s gone when I respawn.

The controls were especially difficult to master, only because I was playing entirely on my phone. While the developer says that there is keyboard and gamepad support for the game, I had neither, so I was forced to rely on my trusty touch-screen phone.

The worst part of it all was that the controls are responsive - Yuhiko jumps farther with a more prolonged press on both the jump and the directional buttons. This might have been totally cool when you’re using a controller, but it’s an absolute pain to do on the phone. There were times when I made it through certain obstacles by sheer stroke of luck, and I’m left wondering how I ever made it to the other side usncathed. I’m not sure if it’s just my phone or the game itself, but there were times when I wanted Yuhiko to jump toward a certain direction and he kept ending up leaping in the opposite direction to a gruesome death into the abyss below. It was frustrating to say the least - if it weren’t for the “continue” (a play button) option, I really would have ragequit from the start.

The (lack of a) story thus far

Now, I’ve always said that I’m a huge story-based gamer. Because Mangavania doesn’t really have story descriptions or anything, I found it difficult to really get pulled into the world and invest emotionally into the character. The thing that motivated me the most was rescuing the poor animals stuck behind gates and stuff - I really wanted to free them more than get Yuhiko to where he needs to go. And if you can’t root for the main protagonist of a game, it’s going to be more problematic in the long run.

I did, however, get this snippet from a furry creature: “Remember that the grave of the Great Spirit has only two flowers of life. One will return you to your world, and the other will cure your brother of the disease.” Now this is something I can get emotionally invested in - it raises the stakes of Yuhiko being in the Underworld in the first place, and makes me want to know more about how the whole thing will play out. Making the hero face moral no-win decisions is always intriguing, and if only there were more of those kinds of snippets, then it would have raised the enjoyment factor of the game way, way more - for me, at least.

The main appeal of the game, obviously, is the aesthetics. It has this overall nostalgic vibe to it, with funky 8-bit music that’s reminiscent of old-school games like the original versions of Metroid and Castlevania. One of the little critters I saved even gave me a handy tip - tap the moon on the loading screen for a nostalgic surprise!

Overall, there’s not much to explore about Mangavania (there are unlockable secrets, though - I won’t spoil you with the details), except that it’s an action platformer. The developer is planning to add more levels and mechanics in the next few updates. Right now, players can engage in speedruns as well, with various scoring systems per level. While I would play this game for a few minutes if I’m bored - it can be very, very satisfying once you clear a stage - I probably would move on to other things once I get past a level or two.