Review – Ministry of Broadcast

Back in 1989, a man named Jordan Mechner released a computer game called Prince of Persia. That game was a brand new kind of 2D platformer, one with very weighty controls and a reliance on precise jumps and death traps. This spawned the “cinematic” subgenre of platformers, with other games like Another World, Flashback, Oddworld, and Blackthorne among its most famous outputs in the 90’s. With the exception of the less weighty, but still totally awesome Limbo and Inside, we haven’t seen a lot of indie titles trying to emulate the cinematic platformer feel from back in the day… until now. I present you Ministry of Broadcast.

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“Here’s the eye exam results. Sir, you have no eyes.”

Ministry of Broadcast doesn’t try to hide the fact it’s a love letter to this specific category of platforming games. Everything you love (and/or hate) from these games is here, such as the stupidly weighty jumping, the slightly delayed button responsiveness, the puzzle-oriented gameplay, and the level design based around failing over and over until you figure out the exact way you need to perform a jump in order to proceed to the next screen. There is also a big emphasis on using mindless goons to solve platforming puzzles, not unlike the first Oddworld games. You’ve seen and played many games like this one before, the gameplay won’t be the main selling point. Other neat elements will.

The first one is the level design. This is usually the most important element about a cinematic platformer, as those games are basically a series of increasingly complicated puzzles. Ministry of Broadcast‘s level design not only fits perfectly with its tone (more on that later), but also features a fantastic difficulty curve that makes you want to keep trying over and over again after dying, without ever feeling too unfair to the point of making you want to rage quit.

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Well, at least he feels bad about it.

The second main selling point is the game’s setting, by far. This game takes place in a dystopian society, in which a redheaded lad has to partake in a deadly, Hunger Games-ish game show in order to be able to see his family once again, as they live outside the walls of a barricaded city. The dreary setting alone would be enough to entice my curiosity, but the game also features one of my favorite things in the whole wide world: a ton of deliciously dark humor. Everything, from the way a talking crow laughs at you when you fail a jump, to the overall commentary about how you can basically only succeed in saving your family by having a ton of people killed in return, is the kind of borderline manic dark humor I love so much.

The visuals are a mixed bag. I really like the 1984-inspired dystopian atmosphere, which can also be noticed in the game’s excellent sound design, but I am not the biggest fan of this particular kind of pixel art. The kind of pixel art that tries to be excessively detailed and minimalistic at the same time, with bleak and detailed environments that fit perfectly with the game’s tone, and excessively minimalistic characters with no faces and limited animations. I get that this art style is meant to emulate the original Prince of Persia, but even that 1989 game had better character sprites. There were also a few framerate issues, although they weren’t that serious. As a side note, I appreciate the fact that Ministry of Broadcast actually features an in-game framerate counter, even in the Switch version.

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Not really, they’re one of my favorite bands.

Ministry of Broadcast ended up being an enjoyable throwback to the heyday of cinematic platformers, but its weighty gameplay wasn’t what I enjoyed the most about it. Even though it played and felt like something the developers of Flashback would have developed twenty-five years ago, the best thing about it is its dreary atmosphere and dark sense of humor. It’s a game that will make you chuckle constantly, while also making you question if you’re the actual hero of the story or just another cog in the murder machine.

 

Graphics: 6.5

It’s that typical retro revival art style that clashes minimalistic pixel art with bloated visual elements onscreen. The environments are bleak, fitting perfectly with the game’s tone, but the character design leaves a lot to be desired. There are also some very slight framerate issues.

Gameplay: 7.5

The weighty controls don’t exactly match properly with the game’s over-reliance on precise platforming, just like most cinematic platformers out there, but it’s still pretty decent. The excellent level design and quick respawn system also make up for these hindrances.

Sound: 8.0

It’s the kind of minimalistic that actually works. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of eerie noises and sound effects, which fit perfectly with the overall bleakness of the game’s setting.

Fun Factor: 7.5

The cinematic platforming vibes will please fans of the genre, while the dystopian setting, crude humor and clever level design will please everyone else.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Ministry of Broadcast is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Ministry of Broadcast was provided by the publisher.

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