Circa Infinity: Spin Me Right Round
Game developer Kenny Sun has a knack for drawing some incredible game designs out of relatively simple mechanics, and Circa Infinity is a great example of that. Built around the concept of traveling through seemingly infinitely recursive circles, Circa Infinity doesn’t have much more to it mechanically than moving left or right and jumping. There are only a few types of enemies, and each of them has a few different types of behaviors it can exhibit. Yet from such humble means, an extremely compelling arcade experience is drawn forth.
With the game being thoroughly submerged in Sun’s striking signature visual style, Circa Infinity can be a little bewildering at first. You’re running around on the outside of a circle. There seems to be another circle inside of it and a wedge cut into it, but what are you meant to do? A tap of a button soon reveals that trying to jump while standing in the wedge portion of the circle causes you to jump into the circle. Naturally, you’ll then try to jump to hit the circle moving around in the middle. Aim true and you’ll find yourself on the outside of that circle, with the view zooming in behind you. Ah, so that’s what we’re doing.
Even within the first stage, the difficulty begins to subtly ramp up as you venture through the layers. You’re given a little bit of time to get used to moving around and jumping, but you’ll soon realize you’re not alone in those circles. Enemies appear, at first completely stationary — but before long, are quite mobile. Touch an enemy and you’ll die, with an instant respawn kicking you out of the current circle. Hit a nasty streak of consecutive deaths and you can end up losing a fair bit of progress.
Eventually, you’ll reach a circle that has something different inside of it. Another circle, but this one appears to be filled with a swirling pattern. Jump to that and the stage is cleared. How many times did you die? How quickly did you finish it? Neither of those things have any bearing on whether or not you can move forward, but the game keeps track of both and marks stages you’ve managed to finish with no deaths. Something to shoot for, then. For now, it’s on to the next stage, where things get trickier and faster.
Indeed, each stage brings one or two new tricks that you’ll have to learn to contend with. What starts off as a rather breezy experience eventually requires razor-sharp reflexes and precise timing. The consequences of failure are small enough that you likely won’t be heavily discouraged, but they’re significant enough that you’ll want to avoid them. The heat turns up so gradually that you won’t even realize how ridiculous the things you’re pulling off are until you stop and take a cold look at the current stage. Because Circa Infinity is so good at easing you in, it never seems like it’s throwing anything at you that you truly can’t handle.
The extra mode in the game, Circle Affinity, presents a totally different challenge. The goal here is to simply go as far as you can without dying, with things being slightly mixed up each time you play. You can’t just take your time the way you can in the regular mode, however. In this mode, spikes are closing in on you from the edges of the screen. Dawdle too long and they’ll skewer you. Once again, the game keeps track of your best score. Each point you earn here goes towards unlocking new color palettes that you can use to give the game a slightly different look. If you’re able to clear specific score thresholds in a single run, you’ll unlock additional, harder courses.
The combination of these two modes gives you a nice bit of variety. The main mode is about the stop-and-start, giving you intense, carefully-designed challenges with regular breathers that allow you to carefully assess what you need to do next. The Circle Affinity mode, on the other hand, demands quick action and faultless play. To a great extent, skills developed in one mode will help out in the other, but each mode requires its own particular approach. Both are quite compelling in their own way, and you’ll likely find yourself bouncing between them. Jumping through hoops has never been so hard to walk away from.