Gravity always seems to be an irresistible force in Bennett Foddy's work. It bends QWOP's alarmingly inept athletes to the track, imposing its will to the point of contortion. It pours upon GIRP's intrepid rock climber, constant as the sun.
And, naturally, the player is given very little recourse. Aside from the momentary lapses into "Chariots of Fire" that whistle past QWOP's graveyard of failed runners, the presentation in these games is crude, spartan. The mechanics are virtually powerless on their own, only allowing the player to feebly shift a thigh muscle or stretch an arm upward in futility.
It is only when players rub these mechanics together, weaving them through timing and precision, that a spark is formed in these dire, oppressive worlds. By pitting these combinative mechanics against gravity's unyielding wrath, QWOP and GIRP create a sense of elasticity, a frictive push and pull between player and environment that only bends to players that can makes the game's handful of interactions sing in concert, crushing all others immediately upon failure.
With its carefully coordinated leaps and terrestrial pull, Foddy's Sun God, a contribution to the Soundplay collaboration between Pitchfork Media and Kill Screen, shares more than a few characteristics with his well-known games. And yet, by setting the percussive pulse of Cut Copy's titular track upon a fiery glitchwork haze, it is immediately different.
In Sun God, players are thrust onto a luminescent hillscape as a pair of silhouette dancers. The opening screen provides minimal direction; one can "play alone or with a friend" and, if they are so inclined, they can "trap sparks within the glowstreams to earn points." The Z and M keys, set apart on the keyboard to comfortably allow for local multiplayer, each control a single dancer. Pushing down the key directs the respective dancer to crouch; releasing the key sends the dancer skyward into a leap, eventually giving way to gravity's duress.
From there, the game begins its divergence from Foddy's previous work, initially presenting its elasticity not as an experiential collision between mechanics, but as a physical, diegetic bond that tethers these dancers together. Once the dancers take to the air, the tether asserts itself, not only as a boundary for the players' expressivity, but as a decorative element of their performance. Between them, it stretches, slack into flatline, just long enough to glide into step with the beat of the music before pulling the dancers back into its supple grin.
Regardless, the opportunity to move forward in the world only emerges when at least one of the dancers takes flight. If the dancer hits their respective key while airborne, they freeze and pivot in mid-air, flinging the other dancer around as though the tether were an aerial silk, propelling them forward without abandon. And, once the other dancer hits their keystroke and returns the favor, then gravity finally takes its leave and the players' flight into the game's true elasticity emerges.
Unshackled by the cruelty of a hard fail state, Sun God provides ample opportunity for its players to refine their performance into shimmering clockwork harmony, carving grooves into hues that Husker Du would approve. Sure, there's very little extrinsic reward to be found beyond that synesthetic hum. The score at the top of the screen offers only a small bit of oblique encouragement; rather than building numbers as progress, players fill the bar with color that deepens as long as their aerial silk dance continues.
But, despite all of that, I found myself pulled all the way to the end of the song, bound to Cut Copy's vivacious electropop. While hard-fought mastery in QWOP and GIRP conveys the miraculous synchronicity of the human body, Sun God allows its players to surrender to a broader duality of sight and sound and, perhaps, player and player. Don't run or climb — fly.
Some further questions for discussion:
- Did you try playing this game with another player?
- Did the performative aspect of the game keep you engaged throughout the duration of the song? Would you be willing to play it again?
- Does this game manage to tap into that mythical S-word that buzzes around other interactive presentations of music? Does it achieve synesthesia?