"This is the price of gold: a heavy heart."
Whether you play Midas because it just won Ludum Dare 22’s Jam competition, or because it comes from the same team that made the truly ingenious lo-fi puzzler Impasse doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you play Midas: it’s clever and precise and quietly thought provoking, and it’s even a little sad.
Ludum Dare latest competition was themed around a single word: Alone. It’s not the best remit in the world, as it’s a little too loose to prod people into interesting directions or – better yet – trap them in corners they have to fight to escape from. That said, it’s still turned out some fascinating games, and Midas belongs right at the top of the pile.
Midas takes that one word theme and really moves in close. You are, as the name suggests, a king who turns everything he touches into gold, and the aim of each level is to get across the environment to reach the woman you love; the objective is to end your loneliness.
Weird as it sounds, Midas genuinely explores what it’s like to feel isolated and imprisoned by some theoretically useful skills. Turning blocks to gold also allows them to be affected by gravity, sometimes allowing you to bring down the ceiling to create steps, but at other times meaning that you’ll take the floor out beneath you if it’s thin enough, leaving you stuck on a little island in the middle of nowhere. It also means you can’t reach your lady friend until you’ve touched one of the blue water blocks on each level, temporarily ending your curse. After you’ve touched the water block, mind, you won’t be able to alter the environment anymore. Playing Midas is a bit like planning a bank robbery, then: you need a strategy for getting out as well as getting in.
Between levels a familiar tale is told, one sentence at a time. There’s not much text, but it’s evocative and multi-layered. There’s not much narrative, but it’s effective because it’s so restrained. Better yet, the real storytelling is largely done within the mechanics of the game itself, as you come to understand the full consequences of Midas’ curse by seeing the ways he can muddle, enhance, and, more often than not, destroy his environments. Midas isn’t just a good puzzle game, although that would be more than enough. It’s one that is full of playful metaphors and visual jokes. The golden bridge that collapses leaving you stranded. The pile of rubble that resembles a crown.
All is vanity, in other words. Not a complex thought, but one that is always worth being reminded of. It’s also not the kind of thought you expect to find at the heart of a game about making staircases.