When the sound of rebellion came knocking on their door towards the end of the eighteenth century, the people of France were done with the monarchy. Louis XVI fell victim to the terror of the guillotine while a nation proclaimed “Vive la révolution!” instead of “Vive le Roi!”. But although this bloody act would go on to lay the foundations for modern democracy, not all French nationals would benefit from this new system of government. When the bourgeois laid claim to many of France’s assets, those on the lowest rung of the ladder found themselves more worse off than they had been before.
Created by French author and game designer Sylvain Seccia, Vive le Roi is a 2D stealth puzzler that gives you the opportunity to rewrite history for the better. Putting you in the role of a plucky young commoner, your objective in each of the game’s thirty levels is to sneak your way to the guillotine and rescue the king before his head lands in a basket. It’s a task easier said than done, particularly when your greatest enemy is the number of mouse clicks it takes to achieve la victoire.
Standing between you and a rendition of Domine, Salvum Fac Regem are cryptic level designs that transform the simple burden of preventing regicide into a fun, noodle-scratching affair that is as addictive as it is frustrating. For you see, while the executioner may be asleep at his post, his eagle-eyed colleagues patrol the platforms and towers of each map, just waiting for an excuse to sound off their guns and signal for the guillotine blade to drop. As it turns out, that excuse is you.
While our hero moves under the cover of darkness with just the click of a mouse button, Vive le Roi is really a game that puts your reflexes to the test. The guards that stand in your way are quick to respond to even the slightest glimpse of trouble, so you’ll have to study their movement patterns if you’re to avoid their line of sight. One incorrectly timed click could be all that stands between you and the downfall of the French monarchy, so it’s best to take your time and get to know your surroundings before tackling the level. Think of it like Abe’s Odyssey for history buffs.
The environment plays a big part in your tense game of hide-and-seek, so it’s a good thing that it’s arguably the most appealing aspect of Vive le Roi. The moonlit backdrop provides the perfect camouflage for you to move around in, as you hide in the darkness of tower silhouettes or behind crates in a manner that would make Solid Snake proud. But while the aim of the game may be stealth, the heart of Vive le Roi lies in its animation and visual style. With influences ranging from the classic 2D Prince of Persia platformers to Playdead’s 2010 kindred spirit puzzler Limbo, this is one game that finds warmth even in the darkest of corners.
As you progress through the game, level designs grow more intricate, leaving you with fewer and fewer places left to hide. Some maps include objects that can be used to distract or even disorientate your opponents should there be no escape from their steely gaze. Boxes of fireworks can be used divert the attention of the guards, freeing up some of the space in which you can move in without being caught. Barrels, meanwhile can be dropped from ledges and onto guards’ heads in order to remove them from the equation completely. There’s even an umbrella that can be used to gently float down from ledges should you need to make it back to ground level pronto.
The final piece of the puzzle involves opening locked portcullis gates, generally by pulling levers or triggering buttons dotted around the map. In later levels, the guards can be put to work on your behalf, even if they don’t know it. Successfully engaging with items in the correct order can change a guard’s movement pattern and force them to walk over trip switches that will grant you access to the king. Vive le Roi is at its most satisfying when it puts all of these gameplay elements together and you find a great sense of achievement in cracking the code that has alluded you for so long.
The game also tasks you with the additional challenge of completing each level within an allotted amount of mouse clicks. The fewer the clicks, the more star points you are awarded, much like the reward system that you’d find in Angry Birds. And while thirty levels may not seem like much for a puzzle game with such limited scope, conquering each one takes up more time than you think, especially when you factor in the amount of restarts you’ll probably have to go through. The star system brings some added replayability for those of us who are gluttons for punishment.
There’s a rhythm to solving the challenges in each level and one mistimed beat would bring your tempo to a crashing halt. Unfortunately, the game is ruthless in its precision and while trial and error goes hand-in-hand with puzzle platform genre, Vive le Roi is unforgiving to say the least. Should so much as one of your toes be spotted by a guard when climbing up a ladder, they’ll instantly alert the executioner of your presence. Even when making a mad dash for cover behind a crate, we found that our hero would be immediately detected mid-animation as he tried to situate himself out of view. As simple as the game’s design is, the rapidly increasing difficulty of each map can also quickly push your patience to its limits.
Getting caught is inevitable once you’ve completed the first two or three levels. It becomes part of the game as you experiment with the environment to determine how exactly you’re going to best the guards. The lack of tutorial or hints works surprisingly in the favour of Vive le Roi. However, having to sit through the short animation of a guard popping off his gun time and watching the king get beheaded time and time again adds to the frustration. There is of course a restart button but why it suddenly becomes inactive once you’ve been spotted is a bit of a mystery, when a quick reset would reduced stress levels somewhat.
However, it is this resentment of precision that makes Vive le Roi such an addictive game. Just when you think you’re ready to pack it all in, one more turn is all it takes to figure out the next step in the puzzle. Frustrating, stressful and at times even unfavourable, Vive le Roi suckers you in with an alluring visual style before enslaving you with its gameplay. It may not be the reigning king of puzzle platformers, but it certainly makes a valiant claim to the throne.