LifeisXbox’s C.A.R.L review | If there was ever a game that I was most surprised about after booting it up, its C.A.R.L. Having very minimal knowledge of the game going in, I thought it would be a generic run-of-the-mill 2D sidescroller with platforming elements. But what we have here actually has some depth to it, with some occasions actually making me laugh out loud at some of the comedic timing. Developed by Andrew Kenady and Morningstar Games, and published by Morningstar Games, C.A.R.L has you infiltrate a mysterious factory outfitted with spiky ceilings, hidden passages, and deadly cogs in order to take back secret tech that you and your creator were banished from using for good. What continues from here is a decent platformer at its core, with some decent mechanics and challenging-level layouts. Read on for the full review.
Most Memorable Moment
The most memorable moment for me was the boss in the second area. It’s a huge robot, larger than the rest that has a thing for working out at the gym and getting ripped. I figured this was going to be my end when I fought him. However, beating him reveals the funniest cutscene and reveals his true character which made me laugh out loud when playing. You have to see it to believe it.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- The Hub World | C.A.R.L has a hub world that acts as a gateway between each level. Each section of the hub world is closed off until the required ability is unlocked by you in order to reach the next area. For example, area two requires a double jump ability. This is unlocked naturally as you progress through each of the stages, defeating a boss will have them drop mystery tech that you take back to your creator outside of the hub world. Once installed, you are free to use your new ability in the world and reach places in previous levels that were not available before to get new upgrades and secret items that can be used in various locations throughout the hub. There are also some great supporting characters in the hub world that will help C.A.R.L along in his journey such as the Sergeant. He and his team of robot friends are where you will upgrade your weapons and defensive items and movement abilities. The doctor will also supply you with additional health wrenches so you can take more damage from each level before dying. Each of these characters also has their own personality and backstory which gives C.A.R.L that depth that I mentioned in the opening. No characters feel tacked on or just randomly placed so your character has someone to talk to. They have a purpose and it works well.
- The Controls | The controls in C.A.R.L are intuitive and easy to get a grip with. The A button jumps and also acts as your double jump, the analog stick and D-Pad move C.A.R.L and the right bumper shoots your laser. Simple enough. As more abilities are unlocked after you progress through the game, a combination of button presses are used but they feel intuitive enough that just using simple logic would mean an explanation of how to use these wouldn’t be necessary. For example, a ground slam is just jumping and pressing down. Simple enough and it works.
- The Boss Fights | The boss fights are one of the highlights of C.A.R.L. Each boss fight is uniquely different and has its own set of styles when trying to defeat C.A.R.L. The first boss uses both his minion robots and a huge crane to try and take you out, and there is a decent amount of randomness to it all that makes it a decent enough challenge. There is one boss per area of the game and after completing that boss, this is when the next set of upgrades unlocks for you.
- Level Design | The level design in C.A.R.L is well thought out and challenging. This is where you will spend most of your time dying over and over due to the challenging nature of the environment. There were a couple of times when I would just put my controller down and stare into space wondering what just happened because I didn’t make a jump correctly or an enemy came out of nowhere. Making C.A.R.L survive each level will be challenging, but I also find this refreshing as it isn’t just one of these simple games that you can just breeze through in under 2 hours. On top of this, there are also some light puzzle elements to the game which will require some thinking and backtracking in order to unlock the exit and move on to the next level. This can sometimes be like, finding a blue lever to open the blue door so to speak, but there are more complex moments than this.
- The Ending | The ending to C.A.R.L honestly surprised me. Without giving too much away, the ending featured a decent set piece with a car chase sequence that plays out unlike the rest of the game I had experienced up until this point. It was a really cool twist to see when I had been so used up until this point playing a certain way. Regardless, this was one of the better endings I have ever seen in a 2D platformer, and those of you who do end up playing it will probably agree with me.
- The Graphics | The limited 2D pixel style is very reminiscent of a 90’s DOS game and I am all for it. The colours are great and work well against the backdrop of each of the levels. C.A.R.L’S supporting cast also seems to have had the same love and attention given to them by also being just detailed enough to make them look and feel like a part of the world. Destroyed enemies leave behind a bunch of nuts and bolts that look cute and keep on with the rest of the theme of the game.
- The Audio | The audio in C.A.R.L is okay. It has a few 8-bit chiptune tracks that I like and the sound effects work well for the most part. The only thing I didn’t like was the repetitiveness of the tracks used and the basic sound effects for the C.A.R.L. Whilst I am sure these were creative choices to make this look more and sound more like a DOS game, I also believe that having more up to date sound effects and music for your game makes it more enjoyable and more immersive. There is a bar in the hub world that you can go into and change your character’s colour for example, and you can also use the Juke Box and play songs from the game that you unlock by finding secret vinyl in each level. It’s okay, but I think I would have rather just had the ability to change the music I want to play on the fly using the machine regardless of what level I am on and have that as a feature.
- A Few Bugs | I won’t pretend that 2D games aren’t as demanding as 3D games. I know this from personal experience. But C.A.R.L does suffer from some pretty irritating bugs that I feel need to be addressed. Frame rate drops are quite often had, and with a game so highly dependent on finesse and timing, it really needs addressing in a patch to have this game locked at a constant frame rate. There were too many instances where I would jump and then the game would drop to single-digit frames causing my reactions to fall out of line and then fall into a few razer wheels and die. Not only this, but sometimes I would take a hit from an enemy and get stuck in a wall. Whilst neither of these bugs is game-breaking as these can be overcome by retrying the level. They are annoying and can cause some discomfort when playing and probably make a few people quit.
What we Disliked
- Length | C.A.R.L isn’t a long game by any means and in some cases doesn’t actually require you to complete every level in order to progress. Collecting the tokens from each level stack up, and providing you have enough tokens you can skip levels entirely. While this isn’t the reason for me placing this under the dislike section, it does detract from the length of the game, and whilst it is also deemed as a player’s choice to do this, there will be some people who do this, and still complain. I would have rather just made it mandatory that each level is to be played adding to the length of the game. On top of this, even if it was a mandatory 4-5 hours, this is pretty short these days, especially with no replayability factors, no multiplayer, no online components, or other things to do.
- Buddy Bot Level | This level was probably the most difficult and unnecessary in the entire game. It requires you to simultaneously control C.A.R.L alongside his buddy bot and have the two navigate a series of challenges and environmental hazards. It’s short, but it isn’t easy for C.A.R.L and the bot to switch places, which will usually result in the controls getting even more confusing before you die. Making the slightest mistake will require you to start over. It’s arguably the worst part of the game and the most frustrating.
How long to beat the story | 5 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 10 hours
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Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.