Developed by Pine Studio
Published by Headup Games
Available on PC through Steam
Suitable for ages 15+
I genuinely did not want to play SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell. “Retro” indie games are a dime a dozen, so when you get them for free to review it’s difficult to give a shit. It had all the buzzwords to paint it as the kind of kooky, hxc, love letter to “real” gamers that the AAA industry just doesn’t understand anymore, gosh darn it! At this point, I’m pretty sure gamers have wised up to the promises of retro-revivals. Mighty No. 9 was one of the largest and most condemning nails in a well hammered coffin. Still, we’re all nostalgic for something. For me, I miss the days of half functional mods and Counter Strike custom servers, best described as a Russian Roulette of insanity and questionable game files.
I started playing SEUM out of a mixture of neglecting my real responsibilities and wanting to knock off a title from my ever expanding backlog of “to-review” games. I had just finished playing a good deal of Total War: Warhammer, so my brain was just waiting for the beer to saturate it to the point that it realized it was bed time. So, you know, around 7:30 PM. I would not move from my seat again until 4 AM. My beer would go untouched, reviews unfinished, girlfriend unsnuggled, and cat unfed. SEUM sucked me in like a Ted normally consumes liquor, and refused to let me go until I had drank the whole bar.
I’m sure I could have finished much faster, but I was determined to 100% this bitch. I had no need to for my review. You can just pass a level pretty easily. But SEUM has secrets to find and challenging benchmarks to overcome, and like fuck if I wasn’t going to get all of them. I didn’t have to, I just wanted to.
So level after level, I would restart, run, restart, run, restart, run, ad nauseum, until I had overcome every challenge the map had to throw at me. Each level has a hidden collectible beer, as well as an “Uber” time to beat. Levels are designed to be completed in around 20 seconds, but the Uber times are closer to a third of that. I did this for every single one of the game’s 91 (plus a few secret) levels.
On top of that, there are a number of secret peak points and QR codes to find, and some even harder to conquer riddles called, “Hellikus.” These riddles require you to first decode just what the hell they are talking about, and then complete devilish challenges like beating a level while running backwards. The QR codes are a bit of fun, leading to random messages and music videos. They struck me as the kind of easter eggs the developers hid for super nerds with nothing better to do. You know, people like me. So thank you, Pine Studio. I enjoyed the folksy pirate metal and foreign disco.
Look at me, talking about the secrets and bonus stuff before I even finish talking about the game! It wasn’t intentional, but really reflects how Pine Studio just gets it. The goal of SEUM is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, overcoming increasingly insane obstacles along the way. Reaction time is definitely a must, but this isn’t just increasing levels of bullshit on the screen for you to dodge. Levels are varied and interesting, forcing you to use your powers in new and creative ways with every map. In one you’ll be dancing between two alternating platforms, and in another you’ll be mastering the game’s momentum system in a simulated horse race.
SEUM will put your skills to the test, forcing you to learn every nuance of how your powers work to reach the end. Where another game would be content to let you just “play as you want,” SEUM grabs your nuts and doesn’t let go until you learn how to triple teleport jump through a fire portal, quick turn to shoot an anti-gravity orb, and fly your way over lava to reach the goal in 12 seconds. All the while, it never feels unfair. There was never a point where a bullshit boulder out of nowhere took my head off. Some maps took figuring out, but once I did it was always up to me to master the nuances.
I need to reel back a bit, because SEUM isn’t all demonfire and beer. There are a few factors that I could see people taking issue with. First off is the humor. You play as Marty, a redneck metalhead who just wants to drink beer and chill. Unfortunately, Satan shows up and takes your beer. He cuts off your arm, but surprise, you also cut his off. You God Hand style attach his discarded arm to your stump, and go on a quest to get your beer back. So, the humor is juvenile, and plot paper thin. The one liners get a bit old, but there are enough unique ones to keep it fresh. And hey, how I look at it, there’s not a lot of plot getting in the way of all that game.
The second criticism I can see is that the visuals are very basic. SEUM looks like a middle-tier Half-Life mod. There was absolutely no effort put into making these levels seem like a logical part of a larger world. Bounce pads look like giant florescent green speakers, and moving platforms are glaringly orange. It’s all shit that I am totally fine with. I do not care at all if the world looks crummy so long as it functions for gameplay, and SEUM is visually clear. I was never confused as to which were the moving vs still platforms, or what walls were breakable. There’s a clarity to SEUM’s simplicity that is fundamental for its functioning.
The last criticism I have is that the difficulty curve is a bit erratic. I would frequently spend 20 minutes perfecting a level only to finish the next on my first try. Even at the later stages, some levels were far easier than others. This stems from an attempt to keep the game fresh through diverse challenges, but reflects a large imbalance. Some of the power ups are just far more complicated than others. Even at the most complex, “split” is still way less challenging than “teleport.” It’s a minor complaint, because even the less challenging levels are fun and interesting. Overall, the difficulty curve builds well, but there are a few dips in the road.
The highest honest praise that I can give SEUM is that it fully understood what I missed about old school games. On the surface, it draws me in with simple and satisfying gameplay. I’m playing because I want to just be playing the game. Once I naturally explore more, I start finding layers and layers of secrets. There are the secrets SEUM tells me to find, the ones it only tracks after I find them, and the ones I find all on my own that the game never acknowledges. There’s no tracker ticking off all of the QR codes I find. It’s up to me to not only find it, but also enjoy it. In a time before achievements, this was gaming.
SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell is a game in a genre I don’t like, spawned from a market I’ve come to despise, marketed in a way I disgust, and in play I absolutely loved. I was tempted to rate it lower because of the production values, but I honestly don’t think I would have liked it more if they had a billion dollar art budget. It’s a slice of the past I had forgotten I missed. When I finished playing, my legs buckled beneath me as I lurched my way to the bed. I hadn’t even realized my whole body had tensed with the singular desire to complete this game entirely. The only thing I want to ask for from Pine Studio is, “MORE!”
- One-Eye I had the game on the venerable Commodore64 and it was shit. I could just never figure out how to play it and I got killed every time.
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