Paris has exploded. The Eiffel Tower's foundation shook with an unknown force and huge chunks of its metal frame have scattered into the horizon. Fragments of city streets inexplicably hang in the air, their routes twisted and bending in ways no human could ever traverse. It's a good thing you're not quite human. You're humanoid, certainly, but you've also got suction cups for feet. You've also got no face or features to talk of, but that's a subject for later. It's time to bend your brain and twist your perspective with a trip through Youropa.
Where most other third person games put you in the shoes of an anthropomorphic animal, Youropa invites you to make your own suction-cup-footed humanoid. Your avatar's vacant look is a chance to go wild and see what kinds of cute creatures or freaky monsters you can conjure up from the pallet of eyes, noses, ears and other assorted textures at your finger tips. It's nothing essential to gameplay, beyond perhaps making it a little easier to spot when your avatar has been hurt, but it does help add to the overall feeling provoked by Youropa in a way that can help endear you to its abstract world. It certainly gave me a few chuckles being able to put a cheesy smile on my own character and tapping to move them backward, resulting in a quick turn to camera as if the poor character is looking back at me and wondering quite what it is that I think I'm doing.
Graphically, Youropa is an effective combination of familiar urban sights and geometry, albeit shaped in otherworldly ways. It's polished, clean and pleasant viewing, with soft lighting and shadows on the highest graphics settings often used to give the areas you're working through a lovely air of warmth. Given the nature of the game, with its occasionally confusing puzzles, need for repetition in order to feel your way forward at times and mind warping perspective shifts, a lack of visual intensity or repetitive light shows is a relief.
Similarly, audio is light and sparse, with a few moments of piercing intensity when danger is lurking and just the right ambiance to complement the rest of the package. What's on the screen and coming from your speakers is clean, clear, pleasing to the senses and very unlikely to add to any frustration that the puzzles might provoke. As far as a puzzle game's aesthetics go, it's nigh on perfect.
So, those puzzles! The core gameplay of Youropa is path finding. Doesn't seem like it'd provoke much brain bending or confusion, right? You'll regret a lackadaisical approach to taking on the challenge.
As a level begins you're given a view of the space you're expected to move across and then handed your chance to figure it all out. It's not quite as simple as that might sound though, as there's rarely a clear A to B route on the horizon. Paths bend around corners, slopes allow your suction cup footed friend to keep on charging ahead up or down them. The little being can only walk up a slop though, you can't go jumping at walls and sticking to them, so routes are specific and can't be broken with some deft hops, skips and jumps. If you do jump from a wall you're currently stuck to then you'll fall the way gravity intended you to. Or the way the developers intended you to, as the case may be.
Cables connect pressure sensors and switches to moving aspects of the landscape and doors leading between levels so you can quite easily trace the rough path you'll need to get to in order to advance the puzzles, albeit without the route being completely given to you on a plate.
It's easy to think that M.C. Escher's paintings inspired a great deal of what's gripping about Youropa's visuals and the design that power's its puzzles. Being able to grip walls and round surfaces in a way that breaks the limit of what a real person can do invites and ultimately requires a different way of thinking from those that play. I had more than a few "ahh, it's all so obvious now!" moments while playing, turning the camera to every angle to reveal a new path or realizing that the only route forward was to run up a wall, onto the ceiling and then drop down from it to an otherwise unreachable angle. Those moments are what so many are looking for in the games they play and Youropa serves them up regularly.
Complementing the puzzles are a host of enemies, environmental hazards and collectibles.
You're not helpless when it comes to defending your stubby limbed surrogate as they can give a good hard hoof to anything that might try to attack you, including dogs and big bruisers intent on knocking you off of the side of the level. Those bruisers can't be taken down so easily though and often serve as a reason to get things done quickly before they spot you and start making it difficult to focus on which wall you're supposed to be walking up to get away from their rather unpleasant touch or quite how to get that football from one side of a chasm to another.
As you progress fresh elements are added to the levels, the first of which is rainfall. Being a creature that's had its features painted onto it, you'd be right to think that getting wet is a problem, as being hit by the stuff washes away your carefully crafted eyes and ears. It is not quite as rough as having your vision limited or sounds muted as the player, so don't go thinking it's that kind of a punishment, but it's a fun way to show off how damaged your avatar has become, features washing away from the top down and a game over coming if your toes touch the wet stuff.
Within each stage are three neon pink cassette collectibles alongside some slightly less obvious graffiti. The tapes serve as an extra challenge beyond simply progressing to the next stage, often being used as a tease for the player, positioned as if to say "you know you can get here, right?" and inviting you to take another look around to find an angle you'd missed. Similarly, the graffiti is another little extra addition to levels as it requires you to find both a paint can and the location to use it. It's impossible not to see a little influence from Sega's classic graff-em-up Jet Set Radio and it's a nice touch to be able to add some extra colour in your wake.
What's more, and to top off what Youropa has to offer, all of these elements are put directly into your hands in the form of a level creation tool. It's a straightforward affair to lay down some paths and get started whether you're using a mouse and keyboard or a controller, so those who find themselves at the end of the road with Youropa's content will be able to expand it to their heart's content. I fully expect that a little while after release there will be a host of fiendishly befuddling levels made by the same kinds of brilliantly terrible people that keep Mario Maker going to this day.
It's hard to fault Youropa's concept or execution, somehow a sense of care comes through in the strict but refined level design and it's complimented beautifully by the sights and sounds set alongside it. Youropa is most definitely a pleasant place to visit, even if it's a bit confusing at first.