qrth-phyl is a game that is equally brilliant and mysterious, familiar and alien, and 100% enthralling no matter which way (or from which axis) you look at it. Inspired by the classic 'Snake', a mainstay on the ancient, ubiquitous Nokia mobiles of yore, qrth-phyl was borne from a "prototype created in the deep south west of Cornwall in 2004." The creation of hermitgames, a one-man operation founded by Matt James, this title successfully transforms the classic time-waster into an immersive, otherworldly arcade experience that's nothing like the original.
qrth-phyl wastes no time getting players right into the action, and there's really no need for a tutorial - use the analog controls to navigate your snake, eat bits to grow, and don't die. These simple gameplay mechanics belie a much deeper interior, however; qrth-phyl, like hermitgames' former title Leave Home, is generative and not only adapts to players' skills and actions but provides a unique experience each time.
Additionally, there are not only obstacles out to destroy the snake (such as blocks that fire lasers in multiple directions/axes) but moving obstructions bent on ending players' journeys prematurely. Not to mention that one will be constantly dodging their own tail the longer they grow, necessitating precision movements within the dynamic, pulsating space to survive. The snake will find itself moving in and out of each cube-shaped level by way of, for lack of a better, word, a hole. Passing through this hole will transport players inside and outside of the cube; when outside the cube, the snake travels along the surface (with 2D controls) and when inside the cube, the snake can move freely within the 3D space of the interior. Gobble enough bits, travel to the next cube, where bigger and badder challenges await.
All of this wouldn't be enough to make a truly fantastic title - I've played many modern twists on retro gameplay concepts, and few come close to the immersion that qrth-phyl provides. The minimalistic, custom chiptune soundtrack has an almost moody, restless feel about it, lending an eerie and energetic air to the gameplay. There's no hats to win. No levels to gain. qrth-phyl exists for its own sake, pulling players into its world with polished action and visuals. The only title I could really compare to this is the obscure, strange Continuum (aka Alpha Waves) from the DOS days. I was instantly reminded of the bizarre polygonal landscapes contained within each cube-shaped level, multiple axes of movement, eclectic chiptunes, and nebulous gameplay goals.
Whether you decide to play in bite-sized rounds or get sucked in for hours, I can't recommend this title enough for its blend of tight, polished action, dynamic visuals, and cohesive ambiance. I rarely find a game that sucks me in so deeply, even if for only moments, that I forget where I am and what I'm doing. This game does that, if you'll only allow it. It's an absolute steal on XBLIG for only 80 MS Points, and is more than fairly priced on PC for $3/£2.30.
Purchase the XBLIG version of the game here (from the XBOX Games Marketplace).
Purchase the PC version of the game here (from the hermitgames website).
I'd completely reiterate Peter's review conclusion of how accomplished qrth-phyl is - it's a very polished XBLIG release indeed. The two alternating spaces – outside and inside the cube – are sufficiently distinct to make for an interesting pair of play-styles. On the inside of the cube, I was reminded of a modern take on Knot in 3D, albeit with looser analogue controls rather than the 90 degree turns that that game offered. The outside of the cube, by contrast, feels like a modern take on Snake – and the game allows Rez/PacMan CE style 'Zen' play when the player is in the zone (something that is aided by the hypnotic soundtrack).
With no narrative to bog you down, and an entirely abstract setting, this is a game for those who like the purity of the game to be unencumbered by such distractions. Highly recommended.