Ministry of Broadcast is a narrative-driven cinematic platformer in the vein of Prince of Persia, Another World and Abe’s Oddyssey. You are a contestant on a show in a dystopian state controlled by The Regime. A wall splits this state and to gain the privilege of crossing it to reunite with your wife you must compete on, and ultimately win, a reality show that’s a cross between The Running Man and Portal. You take on the role of the contestant and the various roles of guards and protesters are filled by the other residents of the camp you’re placed in at the beginning of the game.
The Portal comparison is more for the aesthetic of some of the arenas than any mechanics involving an Aperture Science Hand-Held Portal Device, though. There’s a lot of escaping from behind the scenes of the environments, crawling through ducts and platforming through sewers which put me in mind of when you eventually break from the testing rooms and start to see the industrial complexity of the Aperture facility which holds them.
Ministry of Broadcast’s art direction is lovely in its striking simplicity in a similar way to Portal as well. But, y’know, all 2D and pixely. There’s lots of avant-garde propaganda designs that implies the game is set in some analogue of the developers native Czech Republic or another Soviet state from sometime in the eighties or early nineties.
It’s a rich and fascinating backdrop to set the game against as you set out to navigate the perils of the game show. It turns out, right from the off, the biggest peril is the way your character handles. He has similar inertia and timing windows to that of Prince of Persia from back in 1989 and as such a vast chunk of the game feels like you’re fighting against it for control.
The puzzles themselves range from obvious to obtuse and when I wasn’t ready to hurl my pad through the television it was generally fun but a lot of them are an exercise in trial and error. There’s very little room for mistakes, and sometimes pressing jump too early in the animation cycle means that you end up leaping off the end of a platform to your doom rather than upwards to the ledge you’re trying to get to. Sometimes you literally can’t see the icicle that pierces your brain until it’s buried in your parietal lobe.
The game does have a quick restart function which resets you to a checkpoint close to where you failed, but this partly feels more like a concession to the deliberately archaic controls than an aid to any kind of progression and partly due to the puzzles being designed to teach you the solution by example, with the example being instant death and a rap on the knuckles telling you not to do that again.
While the story seems to be the impetus to play the game, it suffers from veering wildly in tone. It attempts quite a bleak narrative of Orange (the protagonist is never given a name, he’s just mocked for being a ginger) in his attempts to win the reality TV show he’s become part of, but it periodically is very self aware that it’s a game and the two generally clash against each other.
What’s also apparent is english isn’t the native language of the developers and as such there’s pretty obvious examples of wrong tenses being used, sometimes the wrong word being used entirely and some jokes which are too blunt to be funny. Like when you crawl out of your first air ventilation duct your character says “It’s lucky I didn’t Die Hard!”.
I am a little bit ashamed to admit I did chuckle at the constant jabs at the protagonists red hair, mind. Especially when someone calls you soulless.
A narrative driven puzzle platformer set on a dystopian reality game show isn’t a particularly new idea, but there are good precedents that the game style lends itself to something that can be entertaining with a dry, knowing commentary on the control the government has over the population and the lengths someone would go to in their attempts to reunite with their family. Ministry of Broadcast succeeds part way with its aesthetics and writing but the gameplay is just too deliberately dated and frustrating and stands in the way of any of that being conveyed effectively.
If more time had been spent thinking about how the gameplay could have been updated to be reminiscent of what the developers had been striving for instead of emulating it too precisely Ministry of Broadcasts could have been great. As it stands it’s just an exercise in frustration.