You Have to Win the Game is a delightful indie platformer by Minor Key Games, available for free on Steam or via Pirate Hearts, though the developers recommend the Steam version for the most up-to-date experience. This is a game so retro that you play it through an old monitor that you just know would be the size of several cinder blocks, as the default settings overlay the 80s callback over 4-color pixel graphics to invoke maximum nostalgia.
YHTWTG popped up on my radar, and many others I’m sure, when it was put on Steam as a free game. Released in Spring 2012, YHTWTG was an indie sensation, placing highly on multiple “Best of 2012” indie gaming lists due to it’s ingenious gameplay and nostalgia-invoking style.
However, at the time I wasn’t in tune with indie gaming news at all, and so download and about 5 hours of gameplay later I was surprised and delighted by a this chanced-upon gem. YHTWTG in an unforgiving exploratory platformer with Metroidvania style upgrade elements. I admit, those are basically all the buzzwords I look for, especially in a retro style indie game, but YHTWTG has a lot to offer.
Unless you’re gunning for achievements, YHTWTG gives you unlimited lives, and you will definitely need them. In addition to just having some tricky jumps — I vividly recall wasting dozens of lives attempting to balance a sliding handhold on a vertical moving platform in a room wallpapered with spikes — this game really stole my heart with the fairly expansive world it has. Easy to get lost in and with several hard to find crevices, especially when considering that huge sections of the map are inaccessible until certain item upgrades have been unlocked.
The gameplay is also very satisfying, even for someone diving in with no prior experience. YHTWTG does a great job of easing players into the difficulty with inaccessible rooms and a very straightforward beginning. It is obvious where you can’t go, even if it’s not obvious where you should go. However, due to this and the fact that there is no in-game map, players might have difficulty if they do what I did, which was play through a bunch of the game, then leave it alone for about a year, but of course that wouldn’t happen. Additionally, for those who are put off by the display (or think they would find it easier), the screen overlay can be turned off in the settings.
My final play time was about 8 hours all told; including two run-throughs, my initial stumbling and then a focused achievement run. Even in the second playing I had a great time; I really enjoyed testing my memory and reflexes trying to search out everything I was missing to get the achievements for finding every item and room. I am still missing the achievements related to lives and the one awarded for completing in under 10 minutes — for those who are seeking a challenge these will add extra replayability and difficulty.
Bottom Line: 👍
You Have to Win the Game is worth the price a hundred times over if the words “platformer” or “exploration” have any positive connotations for you — and by that I mean I would totally pay a couple bucks for this title. And lucky for me, Minor Key had me covered there as well!
Click here for my review of Super Win the Game, Minor Key’s remake/followup of their first hit.