I thought I understood Hot Lava.
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I decided to complete my Best of Klei bundle on a whim.
Apparently the idea for the game originated from a single dev at Klei, working on the game in his spare time, before Klei bought the rights and let him have the resources to develop his game.
As such, it’s a 3D game with graphics that are a little rough around the edges – not quite the usual polished cartoony look that most Klei games have – whose only saving grace seemed to be a hefty dose of nostalgia.
After all, haven’t all of us played some version of “the floor is lava” in our childhoods?
And my, this game fully grabs hold of the good ol’ ’80s nostalgia for all it is worth.
You know what? The game’s $2.50 USD after factoring in the bundle discount. The game can be boringly average and mediocre. I just want to tip Klei for feeding my ’80s action cartoon nostalgia – complete with ’80s toy commercial. (Who the hell does an entire toy mockup for a marketing video?!)
So I bought the bundle.
As for the game, well, the Steam page seemed to illustrate pretty much what I was in for.
It’s a 3D platformer. A jumping puzzle game. Multiple levels. Beat your score and maybe that of your friends. Take it as casual or competitive as you want. Score some achievements. That kinda thing.
I mean, I have no strong feelings either way about this.
I generally don’t play platformers as a preference. Neither do I throw histrionic fits at most of GW2’s jumping puzzles (the non-marathon relatively forgiving ones, anyway)
I can appreciate the feeling of flow that comes from repeating a sequence of artfully strategized jumps just right – I’ve done the Mad King’s Clock Tower and Wintersday jumping puzzles now and then for the odd event daily – but I’m not the sort to sit there and FARM the thing to death repeatedly, nor will I try to shave every last damn second off the clock (if there’s no achievement I feel like getting, anyway) on the pedestal of continual improvement.
For a couple of bucks, I figured I’d just install Hot Lava, play it super casually up to the point I no longer felt like continuing, and that would be that. Just hop around like a kid on a playground for a while and call it a day.
On startup, it was quite as expected. You can pick the character you want to play – an amusing lineup of toys/characters in the G. A. T. (Global Action Team) cartoon.
Once upon a time, the characters had distinct abilities, but a later patch decoupled this, so now there are more cosmetic options for player self-expression.
They even come with bonus nostalgia if you read the action files.
As you jump and hop through the levels, you earn xp for your character, which unlocks a whole host of cosmetic options and add-ons, that can be used for the other toys as well.
It’s a simple and pleasant reward mechanic, used by plenty of other FPSes and battle royales before this.
There are other unlocks as well. The game seems to self-awarely poke gentle fun at this, with the shower of gold stars background animation for this menu.
The comics are hilarious. Or at least the one I unlocked is.
It parodies some of that ’80s cartoon moralizing… with a little twist at the end, because it’s an ice cream truck, not an evil pedophile.
As for the game itself… Maps and levels… yes, there are plenty.
There’s a Steam workshop link to presumably player-created ones as well.
Each map opens to a lobby where the map sans lava is available for casual hopping around, with no timers or stress, and comic pages to collect. Just a practice area, where the odd stranger might unexpectedly drop in.
The first time it happened was a bit of a surprise. I’d thought I was in my own private lobby. Apparently not.
Beyond the odd emote wave spam, we mostly mutually left each other be and did our own things, so I haven’t found the need to look for an “Offline” switch. There’s apparently one somewhere.
I suppose this is where people with actual friends that actually deign to play the exact same game at the exact same time might actually visit each other’s lobbies and *gasp* enter the same map together.
The bonus of the public lobby for random strangers is that you can see the race scores for the players in your lobby, so it’s a subtle form of asynchronous competition, if you choose to look for it.
The first two people I saw in game were reassuringly ego-boosting, also new (you can roughly estimate their experience by the number next to their names – ie. how many stars they’ve earned per map level), and having somewhat worser times than I.
Since I was playing singleplayer, I was dutifully completing all the course challenges for the sake of having some goals to aim toward.
The first time goal is pretty generous – as long as you aren’t meandering around, it’s quite easy to make it under the time. The second time goal generally pushes the player a little harder and encourages finding more efficient jumps and shortcuts to make it under the time.
In a nice change of pace, it’s not all compete-rush-timed stuff. There are exploration goals also. There is a hidden comic that almost requires a player to slow down and look through every part of the map carefully to find the item, unless you get lucky and stumble into it. The golden pin is a chiming gold star that is a little out of the way and demands a bit more jumping effort to get to it.
Each challenge can be completely separately, so there is variety for each repetition. One might just go through the first attempt at the map more casually, following the green checkpoints and looking for comfortable jumps, just to get familiar with the place and complete the course.
After that, one might decide to speed things up a bit and see just how fast one can reach the end.
When tired, there is always slowing down a run and diverting to go hunt for secrets or play around and so on. And “no deaths” can be done super slowly and carefully.
It’s not compulsory to complete all the challenges either. Completing the course unlocks the next one and so on.
There’s a decent variety of environments.
I thought I had the game pegged.
I figured that speedrunners and skillful vets who loved this sort of thing were using the ability that lets them bunny hop and build ridiculous amounts of speed to fly through the course. Or mastering other abilities and getting the best use out of them and so on.
Meanwhile, I was happy just casually romping from checkpoint to checkpoint and getting my little gold stars, then going to the next map. That’s casual game gameplay, y’know.
Getting a decent amount of value and enjoyment out of my $2.50 USD.
The movement is smooth and fun; there’s some parkour-like swings and slides and wall stick-and-slides to add to the rhythm and flow; it’s not frustratingly hard; just hop and bounce and double jump from flat surface to surface and eat all the green checkpoint dots like Pacman until the last blue checkpoint goal.
Personal score: Well, objectively a 7, but maybe I’ll bump it up to 8 cos of the ’80s nostalgia factor.
On the playground map, between one random hop and another, I run into… not a ball, not a toy, not one of dozens of inanimate objects I’ve been running into and kicking into lava, but a moving, living, squirmy dog.
What the hell?
You can fling him around too, in a rather egregious example of virtual dog abuse complete with roly poly physics, as he yips, rolls around and resumes glaring at you.
Some Googling revealed that he is part of a secret Buddy mode, where you can score some achievements, and he provides an alternate form of play with more difficulty, as he weighs you down and you need to get to all the checkpoints with him in hand.
So not only do you have to find him in each hub (or use a third-party wiki), but then you get to figure out the best strategies for making doable jumps without accidentally flinging him into lava, I suppose.
Whoa, how deep does this rabbit hole go?
Not sure I can be bothered, but hey, it’s nice that it’s there.
Anyway, I’m a casual player, so let me just finish up my casual runs and casual gold stars before I think about that, eh?
Last night, I started up the game. Just another casual round of play.
I’d had enough of the School themes for the beginner maps. I’d experimented briefly with the cartoon evil villain lair maps – complete with hilarious gigantic traps like spikes and swinging pendulums – and while they were fun, I just wanted a different intermediate change of pace.
So I tried the Wholesale map. A Costco-style wholesale type of warehouse with shopping trolleys and towers of cans and so on.
I could feel there was a deepening of complexity in that the optimal jump platforms were not so clear cut. There were walls to cling and slide on – a misjudgement of jump strategy would send you flailing into lava. There were alternate possible paths to try and find the best route from checkpoint to checkpoint.
It was interesting. Engaging. I was busy experimenting and plotting a good route for future attempts at more speed.
I was not expecting an earth-shaking revelation. At all.
Somehow, it happened.
In between one desperate double jump and another, while trying to reach checkpoint 6 and mostly failing and rattling my toy body against unyielding racks of wholesale goods before sliding into lava death to retry at the previous checkpoint…
… I bounced against one rack, then a crate, and jumped twice… got up higher than usual and prepared to descend to checkpoint 6… and banged accidentally into a dim inactive green checkpoint.
Or so I thought.
DING, went the checkpoint. Checkpoint 12 of 13, said the top right of the screen.
What? What the- Can’t be…
Did it glitch? Let me just go to checkpoint 13 and then to the end and see…
Sure enough, successful completion. Goodness knows how many minutes shaved off the run.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Let me try again. I ran into an inactive checkpoint and it registered? Is this for real?
So I tried it again. And it obligingly dinged again.
Then I went to Google.
No, it is not a bug or a glitch. It’s not cheating. It’s working as intended.
MY WORLD IS SHOOK.
I feel like it’s on the same scale as -that- revelation in The Witness.
Speaking in generalities to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t reached that point yet, it’s basically Before and After. Before, you had assumed some structures and rules about the world and were obediently completing goals for an expected end reward. After, well… suddenly the world opens up and the previous boundaries no longer apply.
It’s the nine dots puzzle with four lines. You can’t do it if your brain had imposed an imaginary box at the boundaries of the dots. When you realize you are allowed to break that boundary… whoa.
I don’t have to follow the checkpoints in Hot Lava.
I can just get to the end.
If I can figure out a way to get there.
That rabbit hole just went all the way to Alaska.
Now I understand how some players were scoring ~10 second timings on some levels.
Like this random stranger whose lobby I fell into, when I rushed back to a previously explored map to attempt beelining straight to the end.
Previously, following all the checkpoints was 1:30 mins or thereabouts. My super casual attempt at finding a direct path to the end got me to 30 sec.
Presumably the obsessive take it even further and go at a ridiculous velocity to slingshot themselves to the end.
There are so many ways of playing this game.
One map, so many possibilities. Mind blown. It’s literally game as toy.
I admit it, I was not expecting much at all from this game by its looks. You know what they say about books and covers. Mea culpa.
It’s a Klei game. It can’t be that crappy, y’know?
Possibly the first time I’ve adjusted my personal score rating mid-game to a solid comfortable 8, maybe even an 8.5 for the whole nostalgia schtick.
It’s good. Surprisingly so. A shame more people haven’t seem to have heard of it.
(Or maybe they have, way back in 2019 and 2020, and I’m the one who is two years out of touch.
I’d normally just claim #patientgamer as an excuse, but y’know, there’s an even better global excuse for end 2019 to all of 2020, so I’m a just gonna point the finger at that instead.)