E -soterica

Rythm is Lava

Make it Better, Buy a Magazine!

Current Issue

E-soterica spotlights the indie darlings Khee Hoon Chan and Alyse Stanley just can’t stand to see players miss. Titles that buck convention, brave uncommon subjects, or whose strangeness begs players to stop and gawk. Join us each week as we scour the corners of the internet to share what treasure we find.


Have we reached the point where titles that combine aspects of different gaming genres have become a genre unto themselves? You’ve got racing and sports covered with Rocket League, Crypt of the Necrodancer smashed rhythm and dungeon-crawling together, and then there’s Persona, part JRPG part life simulator, if your life is that of an extremely fashionable Japanese teen.

Last weekend, one of the world’s longest-running game jams, Ludum Dare, challenged developers to create their own entries to add to this growing list. For its 41st competition, nearly 7,000 participants had three days to craft a game that combined two incompatible genres. But one indie developer begged the question: why stop at just two?

Egor Dorichev’s entry Rythm is Lava (typo intentional) stitches together RPG, puzzle, platformer, and rhythm game elements Frankenstein style into an experience as elegant as it is frustratingly complex. It’s brightly colored 8-bit art style stems from its creation on the Pico-8, a virtual machine limited by specs similar to those of retro video game consoles.

Players control between one and four characters at once depending on the level, of which there are 36, uncovered via branching paths and a heavy bit of exploration. Even when playing with the express purpose to find them all, the game’s end screen informed me I’d barely scratched 40%.

One set of control guides all characters on screen, and if two of the same color bump into each other, they explode. As if platforming for multiple people isn’t challenging enough without piling on additional spatial awareness.

And did I mention the floor is lava? Not all the time, mind you, but often enough to chip away at your health, further adding a time-sensitive dimension to the game’s puzzles.

This is where the rhythm mechanics organically build during play. Brute-forcing each puzzle may open the door to the next area but getting there without being burnt to a crisp requires some timing. The floor changes into lava in predictable patterns, and as you jump periodically, the game’s retro sound effects transform hopping to safety into a little tune of its own.

You may be thinking, “Hey that’s only three genres! What about RPGs?” and I’ll admit the developer took some liberties in applying that term. There’s a store where you can buy some very cute gear, including a strawberry which seems like a nod to Celeste – another Pico-8 creation – but that’s about as close to role-playing as Rythm is Lava gets. Unless, like me, you have a habit of naming otherwise featureless characters; I couldn’t let Van Winkle and Chadrick burn to death dozens of time without some form of identity!