Review copy provided by Raskal Games
Extase is an indie game in the block puzzle genre, developed by Raskal Games, with a techno culture vibe through the use of animations and music. The game contains the classic ingredients, a vertical track, falling pieces… although its mechanics are different since here it is not about creating horizontal lines but forming blocks of the same color. It is an entertaining game, but what makes it more interesting to analyze are its accessibility options.
This review was done on PC using keyboard and mouse to play, although it also supports the use of a controller.
The main menu is navigated horizontally, for which we can use the A and S keys to scroll left and right or click with the mouse on the options making them to the center. The options menu is divided into three sections: Options, Accessibility and Controls.
The first screen that we access is called just Options and would be what we would usually call general. Here, we have two sliders to independently adjust the volume of music and sound effects. Techno music is a fundamental part of the design of the game and it is present all the time but it can bother or distract some people, so lowering the volume to zero is nice to have. We have another option to put the game in windowed mode since by default it starts in full screen. The window option is interesting for those who want to play using an on-screen keyboard for example. The last option erases the recorded data so be very careful with it.
In the Accessibility menu, we can change the colors of the game pieces in different ways. On the one hand, we have three pre-designed color schemes for people with one of the three main types of color blindness (Protanopia Deuteranopia and Tritanopia).
We can also mark the option Set Fixed Colors and choose each of the 3 colors we want to use in the game via a small color palette that includes several shades of the most common colors. I found this option very well thought as sometimes the predesigned schemes in some games may not work well for everyone, and customization is always welcome for contrast, comfort or simple preference.
We also have an option called Animation Brightness that, through a slider, allows you to adjust the brightness and visibility of the animations that are seen in the background in the menus and during the game. Although these animations are part of the aesthetics of the game, they can be distracting or annoying for some people, even making the game not playable for some reasons like cognitive overload or lack of contrast. This option can solve many of these issues. Finally, we have the option to deactivate the Screen Shake, which is highly appreciated by those of us who suffer from motion sickness.
Finally, the Controls section allows us to see and reconfigure the keys or buttons that we will use to play. Currently, the game only uses seven inputs. We can rotate the pieces to the left and right, move them laterally in the same directions, lower the pieces line by line or just drop them suddenly to the bottom of the screen. The last input is used to access the pause menu that normally many games assign to the Escape key and that here you can change it to whatever you want. The mapping process is very simple and it also works perfectly with mouse buttons so if you have a mouse with enough buttons, you can play using these exclusively. It is in this way that I tried the game and I must say that it was very comfortable for me. As a recommendation, I would say that it would be nice if the mouse wheel up and mouse wheel down actions could also be used. There are two sliders on this screen. Delayed Auto Switch controls how long the buttons need to be held down for the pieces to move in one direction, so reducing this value can result in greater movement with a shorter press. Be careful not to place it too low as it may cause unwanted movements. Values range from 50 to 300 milliseconds. Auto Repeat Rate controls how fast parts move or rotate once the input has resolved.
As I mentioned before, the objective of the game is simple, forming blocks of 4 or more pieces of the same color so that they disappear, obtaining points for this, and avoiding that they accumulate until reaching the top of the screen. The blocks will not disappear instantly but will do so when the horizontal colored line that descends on the screen reaches the bottom. In the upper left corner, we are shown the next piece that is going to fall so that we can plan our play with that information. There are also some blocks with symbols that activate a unique effect such as clearing pieces in a straight line or destroy all pieces connected to it by the same color.
There are three starting game types with two modes each. Although these types differ in terms of the objective, the modes are constant. In mode A, it is not the pieces but the position of the different colors within them that rotates. In mode B, the complete piece itself rotates, as in most classic games. To unlock B mode you have to reach a certain score first in A mode.
The three types of games are Flow, Classic and Time Trial.
In Flow, we start at zero speed and as we increase the rate we score points, the speed will increase and such, the level of difficulty. If we make mistakes or don’t get points in a while, the game itself will slow down. This game mode has no end unless we finish the game by accessing the pause menu or lose because the blocks accumulate reaching the top of the screen.
In Classic, the mechanics are similar but with a couple of changes. The first is that we can choose the number of different colors that the pieces can have, between 2 and 3. To unlock the three-color mode, you have to reach a score of 6000 points. We can also select the speed at which the game begins between 0 and 9, although this will increase when we reach certain scores and will not decrease again. It would be interesting to have an option so that the speed does not increase and to be able to use this mode to play without haste and at our own pace, which would make it more accessible.
Finally, In Time Trial we will have to try to get the most points in a predetermined time limit. We can choose the time limit from some presets and during the game the remaining time will be displayed on the top.
As a game, Ekstase is entertaining and colorful, a good block puzzle game with a clear goal of being entertaining with no big ambitions. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of aspects in which the gameplay can be adjusted, being the remapping of controls and the speed and keystroke timings settings the ones that will be more useful for gamers with reduced mobility. The fact that you can play using only the mouse buttons is rare these days. I would recommend having the default menu keys A & S replaced with the ones the player chooses after remapping, thus allowing for a more accessible experience for more users. Other options such as removing the camera shake or modifying the brightness of the backgrounds, as mentioned before, certainly improve the cognitive and visual aspects. The game can become stressful at high speeds though, so with that in mind, a little addition to Classic mode could be a potentially good addition. As for visuals probably the worse point is the text can be hard to read due to the retro pixel style.
Sometimes independent developers give us surprises in the field of accessibility. Asking the game creator about how he became interested in accessibility, his response was the following:
“I entered game development with a web development background. As a web developer I use the Scrum framework in which feedback from the users is important in deciding what features to build or change. In a similar way, I approach the development of Ekstase; feedback from the community helps me identify priorities and improve the game. ”
This mentality is reflected in the customization options the game had on launch and the updates it has received since I began to analyze it, and much of that comes directly from the feedback provided in forums and social networks. It’s a refreshing attitude and one that I hope will spread to the rest of the industry.
Antonio I. Martinez has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 and has been a gamer for most of his life. His background formation in computer programming and English compose his basic skill set. Previously the mobility editor for Can I Play That, now works in this new project to help other fellow gamers and contribute to spread accessibility. You can contact him on Twitter at @Black1976