There was a song by the band They Might Be Giants that once proclaimed, “Particle Man, Particle Man / Doing the Things a Particle Can / What’s he like? It’s not important / ParticleMan.” Turns out that we finally know precisely what particle man looks like, and – oddly enough – he apparently looks exactly like a human scientist running down long corridors (or Plucky Duck, it all depends on who you ask). In order to let people everywhere in on any facts the song left out, Ian MacLarty has decided to chronicle all of Particle Man’s important adventures in an endless runner titled Boson X (out now, $1.99).
His goal is to run along – picking up energy from accelerator planks – until he can reach critical mass and discover theoretical particles upon detonation, such as the ever elusive X-Boson. The catch is that the second our scientist slams into anything, even if that means only barely nicking the edge of the platform he was attempting to land on, he is going to explode into a shower of particles. Furthermore – and certainly not making things any easier – he’s also going to go up like a roman candle should he ever miss a jump, which is definitely going to happen quite a lot.
The controls keep things simple enough, with the player either tapping the left or right hand side of the screen – or sometimes both sides simultaneously – in order to make the little scientist leap for his life. The side of the screen you tap will cause the entire playing field to rotate one full click in that direction, and tapping both sides simultaneously will cause the pint sized man to leap straight forward with no rotation. How far the leap goes will be determined by how long you hold down on the screen, and once a jump is initiated – or ended – there is absolutely nothing that can be done to modify what has already been locked in.
By successfully finding the elusive particle at the end of a level you will unlock further experiments to conduct, all of which will eventually bring you one step closer to your ultimate goal: the X-Boson. It should be pointed out that once you achieve critical energy mass you don’t actually explode immediately, the stage instead begins going much faster and the colors of everything changes. During this point you can see how much longer you can stay alive – trying to gather as much extra energy as possible – for bragging rights on the GameCenter leader boards, or at least against your friends.
If it wasn’t already immediately obvious from the fact that this game includes jumping mechanics reminiscent of Castlevania, then let me spell it out for you all directly: Boson X is a colossally hard game. Outside of the first two stages, which are relatively on the easy side, the remaining four levels are filled to the brim with gimmicks – none of which are covered in the tutorial – designed to extract from your body every last ounce of frustration imaginable. When you add in the fact that Boson X’s pre-complete charge speed is already extremely fast, the best difficulty comparison I can make would be to liken this game to Super Hexagon.
Some of the unique gimmicks that each level features are downright maddening, such as how stage three’s planks spin around violently before coming to a stop mere inches in front of your face. The saving grace here – making this tolerable at all – is that the contents of Boson X’s stages aren’t completely randomized, instead randomly drawing from a finite list of pre-made chunks. The catch is, with as fast as the game goes – and the amount of dying you’re going to be doing – it’s going to take a good long while to memorize precisely what happens in each segment.
An extra special honor – all on it’s own – perhaps needs to go to one of stage four’s level chunks, which forces you to pick one of two paths before the rest of the chunk has formed yet. One of them will randomly lead to a blue plank that will help you energize your little particle man, the other one will just lead to a red plank that will try to cave out from underneath you the second you touch it. While the red plank is completely survivable, it can be very frustrating to have Boson X randomly play keep away with the blue planks needed to bring that particular experiment to a successful ending.
However, the game is definitely finishable – thanks in part to its very tight controls – and you will feel one of the most profound moments of pride ever when you successfully complete a stage in Boson X. The catch is that most of you are probably going to run screaming from this game the first time you play stage three, as this is a title that makes difficult NES games look easy by comparison. This game was not meant for most hardcore players out there, and it most certainly was never intended for the casual gamers that make up the bulk of the iTunes marketplace user base.
Anyways – with the matters of gameplay and difficulty finally out of the way – Ian MacLarty’s Boson X is, as far appearances go, a game featuring some rather trippy visuals. One of my favorite parts of the game’s representation of a particle accelerator beam is that everything will become distorted and stretched out when your little man goes full tilt upon achieving critical mass. Even more impressive – regarding the title’s 3D visuals – is that Boson X is extremely easy on your iPod’s batteries, where as many other games will usually drain a device in far under an hour. That runtime longevity is extremely important in a game such as this where you’ll need tons of failed attempts per level before you start to become good enough to successfully get anywhere.
In closing, it’s simply a shame that Boson X is difficult to the point where a player needs to have masochistic tendencies in order to tolerate the game long enough to become vaguely good at it.
Boson X is quite possibly the ultimate endless runner challenge, at least on the iOS platform, which in many ways is simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness. While succeeding at Boson X is going to provide an unequaled sense of accomplishment, it’s also true that the bulk of people playing this game are going to give up on it long before they finish stage three (of six). I want this to be perfectly clear: I adore challenging games such as Volgarr the Viking and VVVVVV, and I even finished “Veni Vidi Vici”, but Boson X is on an entirely different level of difficulty altogether. Those who can stomach this game will most assuredly enjoy the trippy visuals and absurd premise, everyone else should just pass on Boson X entirely as it was never meant for them.