Qrth-Phyl isn’t a 3D version of Snake. It’s a 3D version of Blockade, the all-but-forgotten arcade game that provided the basic design for the omnipresent cellphone classic. The distinction might seen unimportant at first, but it’s vital to Matt James of Hermitgames, who’s spent the last few years of his life peeling Blockade from its flat plane before setting it free in a wonderfully lurid world of translucent colour and flaking, plasticy light.
Like Leave Home, Hermitgames’ previous XBLIG title, Qrth-Phyl uses self-generating code and a structure that adapts to the player’s performance in order to deliver an experience that positively wriggles around under your virtual grasp. It’s another arcade game at heart, too: munch dots, shift between a series of increasingly complex environments, and avoid running into your own body as it extends ever-outwards behind you. Beyond all that – and beneath all that – however, Qrth-Phyl has a somewhat stranger agenda, too: it’s also an interactive museum exhibit, a mixed-media documentary tour of the game that inspired it, and a rumination on the nature of genetic inheritance.
All of which provides this compact offering with depth as well as shimmering texture, and ensures that as you coil yourself tighter around the hi-score table, you’re simultaneously travelling further along James’ ever-curving Mobius strip of memories and metaphors. This is a small game, perhaps, but it’s also a surprisingly rich one, and its bizarre range of ambitions and influences render it very hard to put aside.