Glyph is one of the more unique approaches I’ve seen when it comes to 3D platformers. While it hits all the genre’s familiar notes—running and jumping between platforms, avoiding obstacles and collecting treasures—it’s got one little change that makes a big impact: you’re a ball, with the ball-like physics that come with that. When you can bounce and launch yourself off ramps, when sudden changes of direction or quickly coming to a halt are a little tricky, the familiarity of the 3D platformer becomes something entirely new.
The ball in question is Glyph, a little robotic beetle who can curl up into a little sphere, morph ball style. After being reactivated by another beetle-ball among the ruins of a civilization long since destroyed, Glyph is tasked with travelling around the desert wasteland in search of artifacts and gems that can help restore the Temple City of Aaru to its former glory. It’s a simple premise that exists mostly to set up the game’s bouncing platformer antics, and also lends itself to a nice Ancient Egypt-inspired aesthetic.
Those antics mostly involve rolling around and jumping between stone platforms jutting out of the desert sand, trying to avoid falling into it (sand makes beetle-balls explode, it seems). But being a ball, momentum is your greatest asset and mild hindrance: speed will let you launch yourself off a ramp and go much further than you ever could by simply jumping, but it also means stopping movement and changing directions is a little harder than with a legged platform hero, and becomes more difficult as your speed ramps up.
You have a few other tricks up your sleeve, too. Glyph can spread their wings and glide for short bursts, getting some substantial extra distance from the peak of a jump, while a ground-pound move channels the innate bounciness of even a metal robot ball into some extra jump height. You can jump while airborne, but you get only one jump “charge” each time you touch a safe surface, making those ground-pounds especially useful as a sort of bonus jump: you slam into the ground, pick up a charge as you do so, and bounce yourself back into the air without spending that charge like you would with a regular jump.
From this basis, Glyph creates all sorts of clever, creative puzzles. Some ruins are sparse, with an emphasis on setting up and landing long-distance glides. Others have you climbing pillars, or navigating uneven platforms where you need to take extra care to not roll off. Different obstacles and helpful tools add extra layers to Glyph‘s puzzles, like platforms that disappear shortly after you touch them and pads that charge you up with a double jump, with new elements being introduced in almost every new level.
While you can take things slowly if you want to, one jump at a time, momentum is a big part of Glyph—meaning that once you get accustomed to the Glyph’s movement, you can start to experiment with shortcuts and more creative solutions to the puzzles at hand. Why hop along a path one platform at a time when a well placed jump can launch you past the whole lot to a safe landing a few dozen feet away? Why take the long, winding road to your destination when the right angle and a well-timed smash-jump-glide combo can let you make a beeline right for it?
Every level in Glyph is designed with this sort of openness in mind. There are the obvious paths, but nothing stopping you from trying to deviate from them to experiment with quicker, riskier approaches or just different ways of getting to the end. Exploring those limits is a big part of Glyph‘s appeal, and giving you a playground to make that sort of exploration rewarding is a focus for the game’s level design. This is a game built for speedrunners: there are so many ways, big and small, to create your own shortcuts and find little ways to shave milliseconds off a completion time.
That’s helped by controls that are surprisingly responsive, despite the roly-poly nature of Glyph. Sure, you can’t just stop on a dime or suddenly change direction, but you still have plenty of control over the beetle’s movement, both while airborne and while rolling around. It’d be easy for a game like this to overplay the “ball physics” angle to the point that it’s almost impossible to keep the ball on track, but Glyph finds a good balance: those physics are still something you have to contend with, and something that can be your downfall if you get too greedy with a big jump or completely misjudge a landing, but not to the point of feeling like you’re trying to roll a marble along a toothpick.
That said, the difficulty curve can be steep. Responsive as the controls are, Glyph’s unique style of movement still takes some getting used to, and levels ramp up rapidly in terms of what sort of maneuvers they expect you to have mastered in order to deal with the new puzzles they present. With no mid-level checkpoints and some levels that can be rather long, repeatedly dying as you try to figure out how the game wants you to deal with each new challenge can be a nuisance.
But if you can take the time to master it, Glyph can be a rewarding game—in terms of both a wealth of collectibles and secrets to find, and in the intrinsic satisfaction that comes with expertly navigating Glyph through whatever deadly shortcut you’ve decided works for you. With its little round hero and ball-based physics, Glyph puts an interesting twist on the familiarity of the classic 3D platformer.
Glyph is developed by and published by Bolverk Games. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), and a VR version is available for PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.