Gekraxel is a minimalist 2D platformer set in a world where brave athletes attempt to descend enormous abandoned skyscrapers as quickly as possible as part of a post-apocalyptic sport.
Disclaimer: A Steam key was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.
As the player, you’ll start at the top of a skyscraper, working through the maze-like internals to collect a key, which opens the exit at the bottom of the tower. However, anything greater than a short fall will be lethal, so you’ll need to plan your descent carefully in order to survive.
The player can run, jump, climb, and wallkick. As hitting the ground too quickly is lethal, you’ll need to make use of the climb button to slow your descent on nearby walls before landing. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with this mechanic, the gameplay is very satisfying, and it becomes a challenge of navigation, risky falls, and optimal movement in order to get through the tower as quickly as possible to score a place on the leaderboard.
As the levels are generated based on seeds, there are nearly infinite amounts of levels that you can play, but Gekraxel doesn’t have any story or campaign modes to keep players interested long if theyre not interested in mastering the descent for fast times. After completing a tutorial, there are 3 for modes available to play.
- Play – Play mode is the least competitive of all 3 modes, and places you in a random skyscraper each attempt. There is a timer, but there are no deadlines, and no best-time ghosts to compete with. You can take your time, descend at a pace that is comfortable for you, and complete levels. If you do fail, a new skyscraper will be generated – You don’t get a second chance. I felt like this is was a strange choice, as I’d prefer to have the option to choose to retry, or have a new level generated.
- Daily Challenge – For 24 hours, one skyscraper will be the focus for this mode. You can play it as many times as you would like in order to improve your time, and really optimize your run. You also have the option to display a ghost of either the current world-record holder, or your personal best to compete against in order to give yourself an extra push to get that little bit faster each time. In Gekraxel’s current state, this is the only mode available where you have the option to retry a given level.
- Hardcore Challenge – A mix between daily and play – Hardcore provides you with the extra stress of competing against the ghost, but if you die or complete the tower, a new one is generated. I feel as though a retry button is sorely missed in this mode especially, as outside of replaying one level over and over for an entire 24 hours, this is the main competitive mode. After speaking to the devs, I feel like this will possibly change with future updates as a competitive playerbase adopts the game.
Currently, It is not possible to choose a specific level to play, other than the daily, so if you have a competitive bunch of friends, or if you want to join a community to compete with, outside of the single daily level, Gekraxel doesn’t allow for two players to play the same level. The developers have commented saying that the feature is coming, so hopefully it won’t be long until players are able to challenge each other on specific stages for extra bragging rights.
Visually Gekraxel isn’t the most appealing game. The backgrounds are grey, and the player is red, and that’s about all you’re ever going to see. Although it’s not a visual delight, the minimalist style helps players read the levels and action, and get important information quickly, which is important for the fast-paced decisions you’ll need to make in order to get the best times. Some of these features are extremely useful:
The Circle of light around the player: This circle shows how far the character can fall without that drop being lethal. If the bottom of the circle is touching ground, it’s safe to drop to that platform. This greatly aids in learning exactly how far you can drop without dying, I felt the distance was shorter than what seemed natural.
Wall Proximity Light: When above and slightly beside a wall, it will glow orange, indicating that if you drop, you’ll be able to cling onto it to slow your fall. Despite Gekraxel being very square, the orange line helps line up your drops accurately.
The Key: The key to open the exit is red, but it also has an X shaped beam of light coming from it to help the player see where it will be, even before the key comes on screen. As planning your drop is important, this beam of light showing early can help you take an optimal route through each tower.
In the build that I played, the sound design is extremely minimal. The sound effects work well within the game. The falling thuds sound deep and satisfying, and the walking has a nice tap to it with enough variation to not get annoying over long periods of time. There is currently no music in the game which can make the experience feel a little lonely, so I’d recommend playing with some songs in the background for a better experience.
Overall, the platforming is satisfying, and the catching / climbing mechanic is really fun to execute and master. The levels are generated dynamically based on seeds, so you’ll never run out of stages to play, and if you’re competitive about leaderboards, the existing community are already blazing through the stages, leaving very fast times.
In the current state, Gekraxel isn’t perfect, but the gameplay is solid, and more features are coming. If this looks like a game you might enjoy, I encourage you to give it a proper go. I personally didn’t really click with it until at least an hour in, and there is a good chance that players aren’t willing to give it that much time due to the minimalist style.
Inside the game there are teams that you can join. I’ve created the best team – GameHEART Gaggle. If you want to give this game a try join my team so that we may rise the ranks together. Simply use my team name, and the code 6AA4.
As a final note, I see potential in this game as a speedrunner’s dream, but not in the current state due to the lack of competition on specific stages. If you’re a competitive speedrunner, and want to get into running this game, or have suggestions for the developer on how to make this a better fit for communities such as speedrun.com, join the community discord: https://discord.gg/9FEzmtc . The developers are active and willing to listen. From my time in the server, they want to make Gekraxel as good as it can be, and are happy to look into making changes for the competitive scene.