The C stands for charming

Constant C, a puzzle-platformer where players take control of an intrepid robot trying to right science gone wrong, immediately intrigued me when I first saw it at Tokyo Game Show last year. With a couple of simple button presses, gravity and time were mine to command, so the possibilities for countless physics-based puzzles instantly became evident. The only real question: Would the cute little bot’s platforming escapades have enough of a soul to motivate me through the dozens of stages in the final game?

The bot in questionknown as Rescue Robotis designed to activate if his space-station home ever succumbs to some calamityand, as is quickly relayed via the master AI system, it has. After experimenting with time travel and gravity manipulation, one of the scientists’ devices runs amok, enveloping the entire station in a stasis field that’s frozen everything in placeexcept you, thanks to inhibitors in your robo-parts that let you walk and jump around. So, it’s fallen to your metal shoulders to see if there’s a way to turn the field off and save the facility.

The biggest hook here is how you can interact with the immobile world. Starting off only able to pull nearby objects out of stasis, you can ride the momentum of boxes that froze while falling to get to another part of a stage. Alternatively, you can clear other boxes out of your path to open up exit doors. As the story progresses, more complex obstacles, such as lasers, moving platforms, and globes, all start to hinder your progress.

Later on, your powers increase and diversify, mirroring the smooth, upward flow of difficulty you’ll see over the dozens of stages set across six levels. These include the gravity skill mentioned earlier, which allows you to turn the world on its axis by either 90 or 180 degrees, and a second stasis-dampening field that allows multiple objects in motion at once. The expansion of your powerset also, unfortunately, opens up your playtime to potentially devolve into a comedy of errors. The gravity abilities allow Rescue Robot to use momentum to fling boxes around corners and into normally unreachable positions, which fast becomes a cornerstone of gameplay.

I found having the 90- and 180-degree rotational shifts relative to your position maddening at times, howeverI kept wishing that the buttons were instead assigned to specific walls in the room, and I’d often rotate myself the wrong way, thinking the leftmost wall was still X, even though now it had changed to B after my initial rotation. Yes, this is largely user error, since I kept slipping into a way of thinking that the game obviously wasn’t designed for. To do it the way I would’ve preferred would’ve required a different control scheme, possibly setting up all four directions to the D-pad or the second analog stick. Having to take a step out of the game, though, and methodically plan out my button presses instead of letting them flow naturally was a bit disappointing.

The second stasis-dampening field also comes with problems, but these are clearly on the technical side. Rescue Robot’s presence brings objects into and out of stasis at an ever-quickening rate, and the later levels require more precise timing and movements. As a result, the use of the second stasis field would often culminate in some screen tearing and lag, and it would occasionally lead to frustrating deaths for reasons that weren’t always clear.

The more I played Constant C, though, the more I forgave these shortcomings. Besides solving puzzles, you’re also encouraged to collect special data tubes. Not only do these unlock later stages, but also they allow the master AI to “remember” security footage from before the accident, letting you see what led to the space station’s eventual downfall. These movies include a surprising amount of character development by showing you the fates of your creators and provide an unexpectedly delightful, compelling backstory.

The data tubes also serve another purpose, though. Some levels are simple and straightforward, tempting you to just press on and let the station’s secrets remain undiscovered because the data tubes are tucked away behind near-impregnable defenses that truly push your reflexes. It’s here, in the optional objectives, where the overall difficulty can spike. You could probably rush through the game in about four hours, but if you want to collect all the tubes and have a more fleshed-out and enjoyable story, you’re looking at easily twice as long. If you’re a completionist like me with a penchant for punishment, however, you won’t be satisfied until you collect every last one. Plus, it always felt rewarding when I figured the puzzles out, and the process never felt daunting.

Of course, once you beat the game and collect all the data tubes, there’s not much in the way of replayability. But considering the 100-plus puzzles that push your skills with a controller, charming story, and interesting mechanics, Constant C shows—much like its plucky protagonist—that it has more than enough to overcome its shortcomings.

Developer: International Games System, 5pb • Publisher: Mages, 5pb • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 03.12.2014
Some minor bugs and a lack of replayability can’t hold back Constant C, a puzzle-platformer full of memorable conundrums and surprisingly charming characters.
The Good Inventive puzzles; delightful characters.
The Bad Lack of replayability; controls take some getting used to.
The Ugly Realizing how much time you spent struggling to get those last couple of data tubes.
Constant C is available on Xbox 360 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided for the benefit of this review.