You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a strange and terrifying year. The world is swept by a pandemic, mass protests are sweeping North America, and all the while many are worried about us falling prey to the unchecked use of technologies such as facial recognition software. To elaborate on that last point, many folks are worried about us inching closer and closer to a world reminiscent of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984.
As terrifying as this seems, this also perhaps made 2020 the perfect time to release Ministry of Broadcast, an Orwellian-styled adventure platformer created by the fittingly named Ministry of Broadcast Studio.
Initially when I heard the premise of the game – an adventure following an orange-haired man in a jumpsuit as he competes in a dangerous game show in a totalitarian dystopia – I was expecting gameplay reminiscent of the likes of Papers, Please. However, that was a wrong assumption. What I instead found was gameplay that not only harkens backs to classic titles such as Prince of Persia but also nearly perfects it.
Like most sidescrolling platformers, Ministry of Broadcast involves you running and jumping your way through various areas, trying to be the best contestant you can be. This may involve you dodging ice picks that can lodge themselves into your skull, dodging rabid attack docks, or even pushing fellow contestants onto instant death spikes so that you can use their bodies as platforms. Much like the tone of the story, the levels and the themes and puzzles within can be darkly humorous.
What sets this style of platformer apart from most others is its more methodical take on platforming. Sure, you can try running straight through each stage, but that may lead to a quick and painful death. Instead, you’re meant to approach things more carefully. Perhaps you’ll need to stealthily dodge in and out of background sections to hide from guards. Perhaps you’ll need to arrange boxes to reach a high platform. Quite often you’ll either need to cling onto the edges of platforms, either to hoist yourself up to higher parts of each area or to hide just out of the reach of hazards.
One of the trickiest things to grasp within Ministry of Broadcast is that there are two types of jumps. Jumping while running will make you do what appears to be a skipping motion, good for jumping over gaps in tight hallways or jumping over sizeable pits. The other is a simple straight up jump, needed to precisely jump up onto platforms directly above you. This can be finicky at times, though. You need to be almost perfectly positioned for this to work on occasion, and in some sections – such as during a painful autoscrolling section involving a blimp near the end – it can feel like the jump mechanics are working against you.
Thankfully, those sections are few and far between. There were only two such particularly annoying sections throughout the game on either difficulty. Though, that’s not to say the game is easy, either.
Much of Ministry of Broadcast’s challenge comes not from stage hazards, but from puzzles. Thanks to plentiful checkpoints though, death is but a slap on the wrist. This game wants you to take in your surroundings. Examine what’s ahead. Don’t rush into things. Be patient and think critically and the game will reward you.
The good gameplay alone would have been enough to grip me, but Ministry of Broadcast also has a wonderful story. Sure, the game takes place in a dark and snowy totalitarian state that teeters on the brink of total war, but there is still a cast of characters here who are surprisingly colourful. From snarky psychiatrists to stickler hall monitors to buddies who will backstab you, you will encounter some side characters here who are not simple one-dimensional throwaways, but instead seem to have their own motives. Of course, some characters do just exist for the sake of jokes. But, some have much deeper motives, with these becoming more apparent as the game goes on and touches on issues such as voter suppression and media control. The most notable of the secondary characters is the ever-looming picture and sayings of “The Grandmaster”, the Big Brother of this world.
The game also manages to well weave in references to pop culture without coming off as too on the nose or annoying. There are references here ranging from The Beatles to David Attenborough to even Portal – and yes, not to spoil too much, but at one point you even get cake! This game could have very easily taken itself quite seriously. It could have played it straight and been dark and dreary, yet it would have still been carried by the stunning gameplay. By being so fleshed out – both in regards to background elements and story content – Ministry of Broadcast manages to stand out. It is not just a good game, but truly something special.
The only thing I found to be not particularly noteworthy was the soundtrack. Many sections of the game outright don’t have music, and the sections that do didn’t have particularly memorable tracks. That’s not to say they weren’t fitting tracks, though – they absolutely were. They just weren’t pieces I remembered after turning off the game.
And speaking of turning off the game, I legitimately found it hard to do so. Usually, when I review Switch games, I like to alternate between playing in docked and handheld mode. I do this to truly get a sense of how well they play in each mode (and, by the way, Ministry of Broadcast is great in both). But, during my initial nearly five-hour playthrough, I played it almost all in one docked sitting. I was legitimately gripped! I can’t remember the last time I played an indie title that truly made me lose track of time as I was playing through it. That’s not to mention the replay value, caused in part by the presence of multiple endings. This game is just that good.
Ministry of Broadcast is not a perfect game. The jump controls take some getting used to and can be a bit finicky, the dark humour can be hit or miss, and the game is definitely much more of a puzzle platformer than an action platformer – though perhaps that last thing is actually a plus. It’s a game that clearly stands out among the sea of retro-style platformers. While the retro-style platforming is great, this game offers so much more than just that.
At several points, you will see these words quoted from The Grandmaster: Enjoyment is Mandatory. But it’s an unnecessary order. When I first saw this message I merely chuckled, as I was already having a blast.