Tough but fair, Treasurenauts won't hold your hand

Treasurenauts is as simple a 2D exploration title as they come.

With bits of Indiana Jones and Spelunky mixed in, the downloadable 3DS title — set to launch this May — challenges players to explore their surroundings and find treasure in the process. However, the game's simplicity does nothing to betray its difficulty.

Renegade Kid designed the side-scrolling platformer to appeal to everyone by adding a "casual" mode and a save-free "classic" mode, but it's anything but a casual game, creator Jools Watsham recently told Polygon. Treasurenauts has little in the way of directions and instead expects players to discover its dangers on their own.

"[Treasurenauts] is not an easy game," Watsham said. "We specifically want people to investigate — that's kind of what the game is about: exploring, finding secrets, trying to discover where all the loot is. I think that's probably its hardest hardcore element. It doesn't hold your hand."

Part of its lack of instructions stems from Watsham's belief that handholding is bad design. A game should be able to teach its players with few words. In the case of Treasurenauts, this is immediately apparent. Our demo of the game had one simple instruction: push B to jump. After that, figuring it out was on us.

We started our adventure with a character of our choice, armed with one of three weapons: a bomb, a sword or a gun. Each offers something a little different in terms of power and range, and certain passages will require specific weapons. According to Watsham, allowing players to choose their own weapons is giving them a chance to pick their comfort level — how close they want to get to an enemy, and how they want to attack.

This idea of comfort did play a role in our strategy when approaching enemies. The sword required us to be bold, swinging frantically at close range, while the gun allowed us to attack from a safe distance. Our fear of injury wasn't based on health, but rather something that's far more devastating to lose: our treasure. Each blow would cause our loot to explode out like fireworks, leaving us to scramble and salvage what we could.

Whatever troubles befell us may have been unfortunate, but they were fair. That's one of Watsham's rules.

"You need to give the player what they need to overcome [obstacles], and they just have to use their own dexterity or brain to overcome it," he said. "If the game throws a cheap shot which you could not have overcome, no matter what, that's lame. That's bad design.

"If the game is screwing you and calling it difficult — no, it's not. It's just unfair."

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