At its heart, 140 is an album that just happens to be interactive. A one-hour trip through the abstract mind of a musician fond of colors and two-dimensional shapes. Now, the question is, does the player’s rhythm match the game’s electric beat?
140 is a gaming clubber’s wet dream. For those who have occasionally swayed on the dance floor, you must know what it means to really let loose. There is that specific moment when all the stars in the universe seem to align and suddenly, for no real reason, everything just clicks. The music, your body and every other living thing in that overly hot and cramped box seem to meld into one. It is practically euphoric.
Even for someone with the grace of an elephant that happens to be high on tranquilisers, even I have more than flirted with this release. A freedom that is very hard to come by in everyday life. Sure, I find club music to be dull as dishwater outside of these little orgasms but it is honestly a feeling that should be felt.
Independently developed by programmer Jeppe Carlsen, the lead game designer for Limbo (2010), 140 was made available on PCs back in 2013. Receiving generally positive reviews, Carlsen’s minimalistic venture won the “Excellence in Audio” category at the Independent Games Festival Awards.
Finally, nearly three years later, the platformer is jumping its way onto home and handheld consoles. Although there is not a lot of game time here, 140 attempts to repeat what great (and mediocre) albums successfully have done since the beginning of time: make their audience repeatedly come back for more.
And here is the thing, a one-hour sit for an album is actually quite long. Most mainstream releases fail to reach the 60-minute mark – but this is not just an album. No, at the end of the day, 140 needs to offer something more than an excellent soundtrack.
Thankfully, beneath the dark pulsing beats and colorfully blurred design lays a simplistic but solid platformer. Controlling a square, the player’s goal is to manoeuvre through puzzles and platforming sections in search of a red/blue/yellow/black sphere that is needed to open the next segment. Overall, 140 has three different levels that all take about 15-20 minutes to complete, depending on how “with it” the player is.
Variety is not the word of the day but that does not mean there is not any change. Unlike other famous entries into the genre, with unique and conflicting level designs to offer a break from the monotony, 140 lives on that repetition. The soundtrack and gameplay sink into your inner being and stays there for the entire run time. Like the greatest of tracks, variation does not come from the instruments themselves, but rather how they are used. The tempo is accelerated. The tone darkened. Amp up the distortion and stuff (okay, I know nothing about how music is made).
Each level ends with a boss fight. Or something to that vein. These much harder segments require split-second reflexes and might be nearly impossible for some of us. While the rest of the game can be played blindfolded, probably with even better results, these segments require your ears and eyes to be perfectly in sync. The beat guides when a move should be made but the direction is not quite as straightforward as jumping to the left or right. There is an element of unpredictability that the rest of the experience does not really offer, which makes them a perfect encore to the meat of the title.
Visually, 140 is old school through and through. It is not pretty by any means, but the color and liveliness of all the moving pieces manage to make the whole package quite charming. Like the euphoric release in a club, this a universe that is constantly in rhythm with nature (music). The only way for our 4×4 hero to survive is to join in. The goal is not to break the status quo but to perfectly meld with the background. To effectively not exist anymore. The simplistic visuals help add to that theme.
Is this is a game for everyone? Honestly, probably not. Video games are subjective but I believe that stands even more due to the subjectivity of music. How often has a friend pitched the absolutely perfect album for your particular tastes? “That song that will definitely become your favourite thing ever.” It just doesn’t happen. Well, that is kind of the same thing here. 140 not only requires the player to enjoy playing a bare-bones but challenging platformer, it rests on the assumption that this is the type of music that one can groove to.
If club music sounds like noise to you, then this is probably not your ideal cup of tea. If, like me, you are largely indifferent to it (or actually enjoy it) then 140 is a solid indie jumper with an on-point soundtrack.