Robots have feelings too! Well maybe not, but they could be programmed to simulate an emotional response to a situation. This is certainly the case of On Rusty Trails, a fast-paced 2-D puzzle platformer developed by Black Pants Studio, based in Kassel and Berlin. You play as Elvis – home owner – a triangular robot that’s not so keen on the rain. A sudden thunderstorm strikes and destroys his shack. But Elvis is not stupid, he has home insurance. Elvis grabs his warranty card and sets off to claim a new house.
Unfortunately the warranty office is not nearby, and it’s raining. Elvis rusts, hence the game’s title. Each level is separated into a series of red and blue platforms. Press a button and Elvis dons a piece of blue clothing called the ‘incognito suit’ which allows you safety pass through rain and use blue platforms. The same goes for the red platforms when you are in the natural rustic red. If you attempt to use a different colour platform it disappears and you will likely plummet to your doom. Magnetic boots mean you won’t need to worry about running off an edge, although it also allows for some difficult upside down platforming sections.
On Rusty Trails begins quite easily. I was blasting through the first dozen or so levels without a second thought before the difficulty ramped up to an appropriate level. This never became an issue as I browsed the level selection screen and noticed there were 110 levels and I had around 90 more ahead of me. The difficulty began to scale accordingly, but it never reached the peaks that I had expected closer to the end. In saying that, many of the later levels required multiple attempts before I could safety reach the exit.
There are nine locations, each featuring its own style, traps and enemies. Each consecutive location introduces more challenges like enemies with heat seeking rockets and crumbling platforms, all of which you must contend with on top of the previously introduced hazards. The gameplay evolves into a frantic combination of jumping and switching suits on the fly, usually multiple times before landing safely on a platform. On Rusty Trails requires fast reflexes and perfect timing.
One issue that I did have with the game was the high amount of checkpoints. There were so many checkpoints that a lot of the tension was removed from difficult situations as I always knew I would only have to return back a few platforms when I failed. The checkpoints don’t have to be activated. Even several achievements revolve around completing the game without activating them, although many were hard to avoid. In general, the checkpoints were unnecessary as each level is only around one minute long.
For a game with no dialogue, On Rusty Trails has quite a deep and complex story. Propaganda, a potential race war and an interracial relationship are all addressed through billboards and emoji’s. And of course there’s the issue of home insurance. Insurance companies have terrible reputations for screwing over their customers, made all the more relevant by the storms that recently hit the east coast of Australia. In a sense, it feels as though the game could be one elaborate metaphor for the issues that go along with lodging an insurance claim.
The art style appears to be a mix between hand drawn and computer generated. Each level possesses an industrial aesthetic that looks worn and rusty. It’s disappointing that the camera is set so far back from Elvis and the environments that you only get to fully appreciate the art during cut scenes. The soundtrack is simple, but the sounds of metal clanging and stormy skies perfectly suit the aesthetic.
The bottom line is that On Rusty Trails delivers. It may be easy at points, but this doesn’t spoil what is a solid platformer that touches on complex themes. It will take you around 2-3 hours to complete the game, longer if you’re an achievement hunter. If you enjoyed Outland or Super Meat Boy than this game is for you.
Black Pants Studio is a seven person team and we are unsure if black pants are part of their dress code or not. We have reached out for comment.
On Rusty Trails is available now on Steam where you can also pick up a free digital comic. You can check it out here.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer for PN2. One day he hopes to be a homeowner like Elvis. @DrVane