Angel Express is a 2.5D Racing/Platformer game in where we play as a small custom named messenger girl on her quest to deliver letters by any means necessary. That sounds extreme but as it turns out they must run through areas infested by monsters that have forced humans to rely on the good old pen & paper once more in order to communicate. It is a job only able to be carried out by children as a familiar will be summoned to them to guide their way. Most of the plot and lore is told through unlockable journals while we play through the “Main game” mode.
There are four modes to play in, Main Game which is where all the story handles, Time Attack where you race against the timer through levels, Versus to race against CPU or three of your friends and Online Versus. The Main Game is where you’ll likely spend the majority of your time with this title as repeated playthroughs are encouraged since there are several routes that take you through different levels to your destination. You choose your next location via an over-world map which is also where you can customize the colors of your outfit, chose your title from a pool of words and read the aforementioned lore.
Before any of this you must decide whether you want to play on Easy or on Normal difficulty. Choose carefully since you can not change your difficultly again on that save and playing on Easy will not allow you to unlock some stuff. Normal is not what you’d expect from such a cutesy game, be prepared to have your platforming skills tested with difficult obstacles and very little room for error. The gameplay in Angel Express is quite unlike anything I’ve played before. It is indeed a Racing game but being in first place will not guarantee your victory, it will just net you a substantial amount of points. What really matters is the amount of points you can rake in by defeating enemies, attacking the AI messengers and how well you play through the level without taking damage or falling too far behind the other racers.
Scattered around the stages are various objects such as treasure chests and gems. Treasure chests contain items such as pudding, giant fish or bear traps that are used to either give you a temporary advantage or to damage your enemies with. Another, probably more important object found throughout stages are colored gems. In many other games these would be mere currency or extra points but that is not the case here. Collecting them will boost your stats to allow you to run faster, jump higher and recover faster from damage. They are not permanent upgrades however, if you are hit by an enemy or a wandering monster some gems will fall from your pocket, not only losing you the stats but more dangerously being collected by someone behind you.
For that reason being in first place isn’t always the best of ideas and it adds a interesting element of risk versus reward to how you approach the races. This is a surprisingly strategic game but it has one potentially serious flaw to it. The lack of introduction or explanation of the game’s mechanics will leave you clueless to stuff such as what the gems do unless you read the journals you unlock. That can lead to major disadvantages for players that never bother to read what they unlock, thinking that the tutorial was all that they needed to know about Angel Express. Granted the tutorial does tell you to read the journals carefully but having a more in depth tutorial about what makes the game unique instead of how to move and jump would have been preferred.
There are six backgrounds in total meaning you’ll be seeing them quite a few times over the 22 levels on offer. It’s not much of an issue as you will rarely have time to admire the background and what is there is quite lovely to look at. What is an issue is that there is only one character model for all the messengers that will be racing you and with only the different color pallets to differentiate them , it can be easy to lose track of where or who you are when it gets frantic. While playing through the Main Game there will at times be some mutations to the standard race the clock or other messengers game types that will have you collecting all the gems, running away from a golem or fighting a giant crab.
Yes fighting a giant crab. Why a giant crab? Who knows but it will be spitting molten magma at your face so you don’t have much time to ponder Angel Express’s wackiness. After nearly every race we will have a small cut-scene of banter between our character and her familiar El that are usually pretty entertaining. There is nearly no voice acting here except the occasional “Let’s Go!” from our character in one of the game’s many references to the Mario Franchise. Music fits is upbeat and catchy, fitting in really well with the tongue in cheek theme of the game. I’ve experienced no technical issues with Angel Express and it runs at a solid 60fps which is a real benefit for these type of games that require split second reactions.
The more you play through the main game, the more parts you unlock for use in the level editor that allows you to create your own stages. It is easy to use and you’ll be making playable levels in no time. Steam Workshop support really would have benefited the longevity of the game but for those of us that are willing to take the time to make our own, it’s a nice addition nonetheless. After taking all routes in the main game there is still more to discover and it will take you a decent amount of time to conquer it, especially if you are the type of player that loves to unlock everything. All in all Angel Express was quite a pleasant surprise and one that would make a great party game for when you have company over.
[Review copy was provided]