STAFF REVIEW of Circa Infinity (Xbox One)

Saturday, December 4, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Circa Infinity Box art There’s plenty of platformer games out there, but every now and then you come across one that’s really unique, not only in its visual style of game mechanics, but in its brain-melting difficulty and challenge to try and discern what’s actually happen on screen fast enough so that you can react accordingly. This is the case with Circa Infinity, a platforming game at its core, but one that’s not like any others you’re used to. If I absolutely had to compare it to another game, the closest thing, even somewhat, would be Super Hexagon, only for its layered gameplay, but there’s more than you initially expect here.

Developed by Kenny Sun, Circa Infinity actually released quite a few years ago on PC, but now it’s getting the console treatment, and the gameplay is perfectly suited for a controller in hand to do so. Circa Infinity is as much about the simple-yet-challenging gameplay as it is the psychedelic visuals and fantastic soundtrack that goes along with it, making for a complete experience that will have you holding your breath and trying to not blink so that you don’t die and go back a ring. While there were times of frustration, I kept wanting to try 'just one more time'.

While there’s no narrative in the traditional sense, Circa Infinity focuses all of its attention to its simple and addictive gameplay. You start off playing as a nameless character that seems to be stuck within a number of black and white circles on a 2D plane. You start on the outer circle, aiming to reach the innermost one, but doing so won’t be easy.

Separated into five chapters, 50 levels await you, though good luck doing so without plenty of determination and practice. Levels start out easily enough, having you jump from layer to layer until you reach the middle, but eventually more challenges await, and not just simple enemies, but eventually a visual explosion of moving objects and enemies that will take some practice to get the hang of. Every level slowly introduces a new mechanic or enemy, adding new complexity, almost throughout the whole experience.

The core gameplay comes from running around the inner or outer layer of the circle you’re currently on, aiming to reach the middle until there’s no more circles to jump into. As you jump deeper into a layer, enemies you avoided in the last stay on the screen as the previous circle expands outwards, still within their original circle. You’re only able to flip into another layer at specific locations, usually indicated by a pie shaped cutout, forcing you to think of when the best time to avoid demons and enemies would be as they follow their own paths or directions.

Enemies vary in types and movement patterns. Some run constantly in one direction, some flip at intervals between layers, others only move when you jump, others fly to block you from jumping at specific points and many more. Things start to get crazy around the third world when you have numerous enemies and types all moving in different patterns, sometimes in opposite directions while others only move when you’re trying to jump to avoid them, not to mention having to control more than a single character.

It takes a lot of practice and quick reflexes to make any progress, so if you become frustrated at dying dozens of times, Circle Infinity might not be for you. Instead of dying, whenever you’re struck by an enemy or jump into one, you simply get thrown back one circle to your previous layer. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but at times I became frustrated from dying, causing me to make yet another mistake, sometimes going back three or more layers due to trying to rush instead of taking my time when possible. Every handful of layers there’s a ‘checkpoint’-like system that is basically an enemy-free circle, so it’s impossible to die and regress any further back. While I wish these were more frequent, it’s a fair system overall.

In the beginning everything is black and white, save for the red colored enemies so that you know to avoid them. Later chapters do introduce new colors and mechanics that involve simultaneously using two characters and changing their colors when needed, but it’s tough to reach that far and where your brain will start to melt trying to discern everything happening on screen at once. Level design is done quite well, and none are made impossible or unfair, so if you’re struggling you’re either not seeing something or need to time your jumps better.

The end of each chapter also has you facing off against a boss, which was the highlight of the whole experience. These have you attempting to reach close to their circle, usually having to avoid projectiles of theirs of some kind or numerous enemies to avoid as well. You need to get all of the required hits in without dying or else you have to start the boss fight from the beginning. The first boss and Chapter is easy, it only scales up sharply from there on.

Once you reach Chapter 3 and 4, there’s so much going on at once on the screen that it can be near impossible at times to figure out what you’re actually supposed to do. You’ll die many, many times, but eventually all of this chaos on screen will start to become clearer, much like how you us your peripheral vision while driving, you eventually gain that ‘sense’ of everything with enough practice. It also takes a little getting used to even knowing which direction the stick will make your character(s) move, as you’re constantly rotating around a circle, so it may not always make sense that ‘Left’ on the stick will make you go a different way. Again, it eventually feels natural with time. Even when I got my most frustrated from constantly dying, I always felt like “okay, just one more try”.

Each hypnotic disc showcases the minimalistic approach while also being beautiful and entrancing in its own way. A warning to those that suffer from epilepsy though, or even motion sickness for that matter, Circle Infinity is absolutely not friendly towards those with such conditions. The audio is done quite well, having sounds for all your jumps and flips and such, but the background soundtrack is done fantastic, even my young daughter said “I love this music” as she watched me play (and die many times).

For such a minimalistic game, Circle Infinity is probably one of the more challenging ones you’ll play, requiring dedication and a whole lot of concentration if you want to make any meaningful progress across its 50 levels. I suspect it will frustrate many, if not most, but finally making to the end of a level feels ever so satisfying after dying repeatedly, provided you have the mettle to stick with it.

**Circa Infinity was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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