The art of storytelling is a wondrous process that stimulates the imaginations of millions, and is deservedly revered by societies both past and present. Yet, little thought is given to the physical beauty of the narrative medium, a skill that has stood proud alongside the abstract world of storytelling since the very dawn of humanity. Type:Rider is looking to restore the balance by celebrating the thousands of years of history surrounding the talent of typography; a noble goal that is achieved via the medium of gaming, all in an effort to educate the digital generation on this dying art form.
As a game, Type:Rider evokes the style of the 2D puzzle/platformer genre. You play as a colon, the often overlooked middle sibling of the punctuation family, through which you must navigate ten visually striking levels that chronicle the vast historical repertoire that surrounds the art of typography. Each level documents a specific moment in history, ranging from the genesis of civilisation to the dawn of the computer age, and all are gorgeously realised in the distinct artistic stylings of their respective periods. The early moments of the game ooze an earthly tone, with muddy browns and flickering firelight perfectly conjuring up the image of man’s early forages into the art of the written word, while the pixel-art style encountered in the latter stages induces feelings of profound nostalgia for the early days of the internet. It can be a tough prospect for a game to juggle so many art styles at once, yet Type:Rider masters such a complex task with the ease of a seasoned professional.
The gameplay itself also takes inspiration from the varying time periods on offer. However, while it yields a bountiful harvest of artistic splendour, the same cannot be said for the puzzle design. During the opening handful of levels, the puzzles as dreadful, lacking the vibrancy and profound inspiration that so thoroughly resonates throughout the game’s visual design. Later levels do improve significantly upon the mundane platform-hopping that ensnares the initial few levels – the creatively abstract puzzles from the Surrealist modernism level are a standout favourite – yet the ink has already been smudged. It’s a crying shame, as the challenge and ingenuity of the gameplay impressed me beyond expectation during the latter moments, however I cannot ignore the stale and tepid opening section. Having a strong introduction is paramount in any form of media, and the lack of one here may well scare away prospective players.
Nevertheless, the puzzles are but a sub-plot to the game’s main narrative, that of teaching us about typography. As you make your way through the levels, you might notice the appearance of strange, floating bubbles containing the letters of the alphabet. Every level has its own unique set of letters to collect, reflecting the distinctive fronts of the time. Just like in Pokémon, the aim is to collect them all. On their own, these letters do little to educate the player – though the act of obtaining a complete set is very satisfying, especially when they’re in hard-to-reach places – but thankfully, Type:Rider has another collectable up its sleeve that will enlighten any who manage to find them.
The collectable asterisks found in each level provide the primary learning material for budding typographical students. Upon laying your ink-stained, digital hands upon them, you’ll be rewarded with in in-depth look at the history of typography. These snippets are fantastic to read, and I felt my brain expanding as it soaked up all of the knowledge on offer. As an English student, I revelled in learning about the intricate and rich background surrounding typography, yet I worry that the somewhat static approach to divulging such enlightening information will turn off most players. I spent the majority of my time in Type:Rider reading pages and pages of text, and while I personally don’t mind this, other people will undoubtedly find such a methodology impenetrable. The gameplay becomes overshadowed by the need to educate and inform, and thus at times you’ll question whether you’re playing a game or not.
Type:Rider firmly sets its sight upon educating players on the lost art of typography, and while it accomplishes this goal admirably, it comes at the expense of the gameplay. The integration between the two elements could have been a complementary relationship, yet as it stands, both too separate to provide a complete gaming experience. That said, I found myself caught up in the importance of the whole occasion. The game goes to great lengths to make the experience feel special, and as the credits rolled and the moon shone brightly in inky blackness above, I felt privileged to one of a select few to learn about such an enthralling topic. The game’s niche topic is its undoing, but is also its greatest strength.