It's just not a proper week without a new jmtb02 game. But if you're expecting the usual jolt of hyperactive skull-smashery from John Cooney—like TBA or Grid16—you'd better slow down, Miss Sally Brown. Compulse is John's attempt at a tightly packed zen experience, and it's 98% adrenaline-free, with extra soothing strategy flavor.
Compulse is basically just an indirect game of golf. Your object on each of 25 levels is to get the ball in the goal, by dragging and dropping squares of force that push the ball up, down, left, or right. You'll have to work with and against the constant pull of gravity, and new obstacles will come along regularly to make life interesting. The goal is a mysterious vortex of spinning rings, and on most levels, you'll have to collect some missing rings to complete the vortex before you can exit.
That's simple enough, but where Compulse departs from most games of its ilk is in its open-ended gameplay. You can place as many squares on the screen as you like, forcing the ball through extensive convulsions on its way to freedom. Either that, or you can shoot for efficiency, and try to complete the level with as few squares as possible. Each level has two different benchmarks, and you'll get a little gold star on the menu screen each time you make a Pro Score.
Analysis: I appreciate the change of pace, but Compulse is perhaps a little too lenient in some ways. Many of the Pro Scores are too high (Note: John has updated these scores since this review was published.), and there are usually many different solutions to a given level. You have so much freedom to experiment, it sometimes feels like more of a toy than a game. There's even an insanely complete replay function, so you can relive your clever solutions backwards and forwards.
But that's cool. It is what it is. There are clouds in the background. The music (by "MaestroRage", paradoxically) is a breezy mixture of strings, chimes, and rain. The presentation could hardly be better. If you're not in any hurry, this is a lovely way to spend 20 minutes or so.
But jmtb02—perhaps sensing that some players might need a dangling carrot above and beyond the pure love of watching gravity work—has typed out a short, witty narrative for each level. These are so entertaining that I eventually found myself playing just to see what John had to say next; they are so revealing about his thought process that, in the end, I felt slightly closer to him as a human being. As odd as that may sound.
I don't know if a game has to include a director's commentary in order to make that kind of contact, and I'd rather it not become a trend, but in this case the personal touch works. This is a tasteful and intelligent diversion from one of the most prolific Flash designers on the scene.
You can also play this game at John's jmtb02 Studios site.