I don’t know about you, but when I see a butt load of spikes all over the place, I assume a game is going to be a tough-as-nails platforming game. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Z-Axis: Continuum isn’t a tough-as-nails platforming game but a tough-as-nails puzzle game! You’ll be jumping and moving around a bit, sure, but you’ll also be flipping the entire level 90 degrees at will to get yourself and other various objects in just the right places to complete each level.
Title: Z-Axis: Continuum
Developer: Lazerpants Studios (Jaime Holub)
Platform: Xbox One
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Interface: Xbox One Controller
Available on Xbox One and Steam
Escape a bizarre world by rotating the universe. Use portals, physics, time, and clones as floors become walls, walls become ceilings, left becomes down, and right becomes up. You manipulate time and space at will, but do you have the mind to solve the warped reality that imprisons you?
The premise of Z-Axis: Continuum is simple enough: get to the glowing orb on each level. Accomplishing that feat, on the other hand, is far from as simple. Right from the beginning you can jump, walk around, and rotate the screen 90° at any given moment. Buttons are quickly introduced; each is color-coded and opens or closes gates of the same color on the level either by touching it yourself or causing an object to bump up against or brush across it. Then there are the portals that warp you from one point to another; sometimes even the orientation of the game world means coming out of them differently. And who could forget the spikes? Jagged, pointy death can be found all over many of the walls, and they’re all too happy to put an end to your life. These, along with a slew of surprises throughout the 30 levels of Z-Axis: Continuum, come together as a rather brilliant amalgamation of puzzley goodness.
When I first started the game I was surprised at how little direct movement is required. Most levels require little movement with the joystick/d-pad/arrows, and the tiny jump you have is even less frequently used, yet you’ll still transverse large areas via rotating the worlds. I never really grasped rotating the correct direction even though the controls were simple enough. But hey, that’s okay, because the game does a great job of keeping you still for a moment while the world rotates, so you can rotate the world a billion times if you really wanted to and not go anywhere! This comes in especially handy in later levels when you have to navigate spiky drops with twists or jump from one side of an object to another without getting jabbed by homicidal spikes.
Z-Axis: Continuum has only 30 levels, and 6(!) are tutorial levels. I really expected this to be a very quick review, but boy was I wrong! The six tutorial levels smoothly introduce the basics one at a time, and then you’re thrust into the real meat of the game. The variety of puzzles from level to level is equally surprising, and that’s true despite the fact that I haven’t even seen 40% of the levels! But even in that fraction of the game I never once felt bored of similar puzzles; on the contrary, there were aha! moments to be found on practically every level!
Z-Axis: Continuum is also a speedrunner’s dream as there’s an achievement for every level aside from the six tutorial levels, and after what I’ve played so far I can absolutely see the thrill of trying to perfect the puzzles on each level to get my time lower and lower. Once the tutorial levels were complete I felt like a mad genius every time I finished a level, aside from maybe the two or three times that I just sat back and wondered how the heck I opened a gate or reached the end of a level. Once the game is out in the hands of the gaming community, I’m hoping to find some terrific videos of people speedrunning levels or even completing every level possible without moving the character directly.
On the negative side, there were a few times when I was trying to get a ball or block moved through a maze of buttons and rooms only to accidentally let myself bump spikes and die. It’s very easy to focus all of one’s attention on the object and forget about where you are and what you’re doing long enough to accidentally die. Oops! Getting those blocks and balls to go where you want can be a bit maddening sometimes as well and it’s very easy to die or get stuck in some of the more complex levels that require lots of effort to complete, meaning replaying a few minutes of a level to get back where you were when you made a simple mistake.
Overall, Z-Axis: Continuum is a finely-tuned puzzle game with lots of variety and a great deal of challenge. The game is absolutely perfect for anyone who wants to give their mental skills a serious workout. Above all else, looking at pretty much any random screenshot of the game just makes me stare in amazement at how much depth Lazerpants Studios was able to get out of such simple art and the idea of rotating the world freely.