Bennett Foddy has a lot to answer for. He didn’t invent difficult, physics-based precision platformers, and he certainly didn’t invent making them as absurd as humanly possible.
But, try as I might not to compare the two, I could still feel the influence of Getting Over It when playing Without My Arms from the one-man developer and producer Killerkun. A game I suck at, by the way.
Press R to Rage Quit
Is Without My Arms a troll game? I wouldn’t say so.
In this game, you play as John Potatom. Seeing as you are naught but a head upon a muscle-bound torso, you are attempting to climb a tower using just your tongue.
How difficult is this task? As hard as it sounds. Infuriatingly, rage inducingly hard. I’m pretty sure I nearly broke my mouse from clicking. There’s a dedicated screaming button for a reason.
But the game isn’t totally unforgiving.
There are side quests, but aside from one which rewards you with an ability to use your tongue like a grappling hook, they’re all pretty much optional.
This means the path to winning the game is a (relatively) straightforward and short one. In fact, there’s an achievement for beating the game faster than its creator. What is this record you ask? One and a half minutes.
Any collectables you’re holding can be destroyed by a hard fall, but you yourself can’t die. And if the thought of having to retrace your steps (err, tongue bounces) is too much to bear, there’s a checkpoint mode.
You’ll just have to suck up being called a “baby” for using it. Be aware though that even if you use checkpoints, your progress doesn’t save if you close the game.
This Magic Super-Tongue Feels a Little Inconsistent
The only time Without My Arms actively feels unfair is when the physics get a bit…weird. Or rather, weirder.
It can take a while to get used to hopping around on your tongue, which coils and uncoils like a spring. Once you do though, you’ll be able to leap and bound with a fairly reliable sense of how much power you’re putting into each bounce.
You can use your tongue to catch the lips of platforms and launch yourself half an inch in the air, or halfway across the map. But it’s not a fool-proof muscle.
Sometimes, when falling with enough force, catching the edge of a platform will cause your tongue to break in the middle. This will send you careening back to the base of the tower.
Given the way your tongue just clips out of existence, I genuinely can’t tell if this is an added difficulty feature or a bug.
Also, remember those breakable collectables? It’s not always consistent just how hard of a fall it’ll take to burst whatever burger, coin or baby you’re currently swaddling in the loving folds of your tongue.
These moments aren’t super common (if they were, it’d be a death sentence for a precision platformer). But, for a game that’s already so daunting, it really stings whenever you feel like you’re being punished for something that isn’t your fault.
Packed with Secrets
Like I said, you can technically beat this game in less than 2 minutes. Provided you’re not me, of course. But even if you’re not terrible at Without My Arms, there are enough secrets to bring you back for another taste.
There’s not much of a story to Without My Arms. But there are six different endings. You achieve these endings by bringing certain items to each of the “wise men” hidden throughout the map.
The map is small but surprisingly dense. Hunting for collectables will take you down more complex routes than the main path. You’ll encounter new obstacles, such as heavy swinging vines or vats of water, and interactable objects like skateboards.
This all helps to keep exploration engaging and replays worthwhile.
Whilst you can technically gift most items to any character you wish, only specific combinations will net you a reward. Aside from the aforementioned sticky tongue, most of these rewards are largely aesthetic: you can get a vestigial leg from an old man, or a tail from a talking squirrel.
But it is fun trying to figure out what item will most please each character, and it is doing this which will grant you those different endings.
Of course, the ending itself is a bit of a cliff hanger. So maybe this is a bit of a troll game, after all.
It’s…Probably a Good Thing the Tongue is so Pixelated
Earlier, I said Without My Arms reminded me of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. But this isn’t an entirely fair comparison. Without My Arms reminded me of a lot of games.
In fact, I can see a rich history of influences in its presentation. I am a pretentious dork, after all.
Starting with the most obvious, the 16-bit graphics hail back to your classic Super Mario-era platformers, much like more successful indie darlings from recent years such as Celeste.
In contrast to the prettiness of Celeste, however, there is a visceral grossness to the way Potatom rolls, squelches and slathers across the screen. It feels reminiscent of Super Meat Boy, but with its own distinct flavour of slobbery yuck.
And then there’s the sheer weirdness of everything, seasoned with just a dash of cynical humour. For example, you might move heaven and hell to reunite a baby and adult squirrel, only to be told: “Oh, is that my step-son? I thought I got rid of him”.
More than anything, the overall style of Without My Arms made me nostalgic for those surreal flash games that littered the internet in the 2000s. Remember? The kind with barely any pixels and even less of a story.
Though it seems sparse at first, little details also bring more life to the environment. The tower, with all its cracked columns and shadowy passages, feels vast and ruinous. Skeletons litter the landscape, ominous portents that hint at the perilousness of this journey.
Birds coo and flutter away when you crash amongst them. And complex machinery in the heart of the Tower of Wishes makes you wonder at its purpose. Ridiculous as it is, one gets the sense care has been put into this game.
As a side note, there’s an option to customise your skin. You’ll need two photos: one of the sprites with a closed mouth, one open. Otherwise, sticking out your tongue or screaming will cause your head to disappear, and you’ll be treated to a delightful view of Potatom’s decapitated torso.
It’s hard to say if this is worth the effort, though. In my case, the image ended up so pixelated that it could’ve been anyone screaming endlessly as they plummeted a thousand feet and slammed into the concrete, instead of yours truly.
I can’t talk about Without My Arms without mentioning the sound design. It’s disgusting. I mean, really, gleefully grotesque. Using your tongue makes this loud, wet shlorrrp ring out in the eerie stillness of the tower.
I hear that shlorrrp when I’m lying in bed at night. When I wake up in the morning. I have begun suffering from a recurring nightmare that, one day, I will have a child, and their first word will be “shlorrrp”.
Contrasting this is the music. Josh Lim scores your journey up the tower. His grandiose, melancholic piano track is totally at odds with the premise of the game, compounding the absurdity. Though, it will feel suitably tragic if and when you have to restart.
Should you get Without My Arms? Of course, you should! It has a regular retail price of £2.09. At the time of writing it’s on sale for £1.40.
There are plenty of worse things you could spend that money on than an afternoon laughing and groaning at a silly, slightly-evil little platformer.
Infuriating as it is, it abounds with nonsensical creativity that deserves to be rewarded. And who knows? Maybe you’re the chosen one. Maybe you can reach the top of the tower in 1 minute 29 seconds. What have you got to lose?
Well, except maybe your mouse.