During this most gluttonous time of year, it is easy to lose the resolve for self betterment. Strict diets falter in the face of Christmas feasts, boozy work holiday parties result in hangovers and awkward office banter, and tough video game challenges are set aside for easier, short session experiences. For those who still retain the urge to challenge themselves, however, Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike serves as a perfect punitive contrast to holiday festivities. Created by developer Dodge Roll, which went on the create the highly acclaimed Enter The Gungeon, this mashup of Ice Climber and Super Meat Boy is full of clever ideas and crushing difficulty.
Fork Parker is a game executive trying to milk the last few dollars out of the fiscal year. A Scrooge McDuck type, complete with lust for gold and the ability to bounce on his cane, Fork ascends through a mountain crafted from holiday profits. Each screen has bundles of cash to collect, but climbing must be done carefully, as each death will result in a hefty medical bill cutting into Fork’s bottom line. Only skilful play will determine if he will make it to the top with cash to spare, or be left battered and broken under a pile of snow.
Gameplay in Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is brutally hard from the start, and only increases in difficulty as the game progresses. The walls are covered in spikes, and platforms are few and far between. Fork ascends through the mountain by shooting lengths of rope, connecting platforms and swinging him through dangerous ravines. Up to three rope sections can be used at a time, a slippery spider web Fork can slide down with his cane. As Fork ascends, the layouts progress from hard to near-impossible, adding festive enemies to the mix like flying ugly sweaters, scarf-wearing spike blocks and bouncy penguins. The careful aiming of ropes is interrupted by moving elements, adding extra difficulty upon the inherent trickiness of wielding an unfamiliar mechanic.
I will confess, I did not get very high into the mountain of Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike. No blame can be laid at the hands of the controls: Fork’s movements were silky smooth, with wall jumps and edge grabbing adding an extra layer of accessibility to his move set. Nor is the rope mechanic poorly executed: creating your own platforms is a fascinating idea, and completing a section with a beautifully complicated tangle of rope feels great. The real issue, apart from my not taking the time to ‘git gud’, is the lack of a proper tutorial for the rope shooting mechanic.
Fork can shoot out pitons in any direction, which are the anchor points for the ropes. Each rope connects to the most recently shot piton, with the oldest rope disappearing when more than three are on screen. These hooks can be shot further when the run button is held down, and a downward sloping rope can be climbed up with enough forward momentum. What I did not realise while playing, however, is that two pitons can be thrown at the same time, zigzagging Fork in midair to create a flat surface. A short tutorial section showing off the different tricks of the rope handling would make zipping between the endless walls of spikes slightly more approachable. While the physics of the rope make sense after some practice, the initial confusion of how they work could discourage some gamers.
Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is decked out with just the right amount of festive decorations, with green and red enemies contrasting nicely with the blue ice. The sprites are all adorable, particularly Fork with his bulging eyes when hanging from a ledge or gleeful smile when sliding across a rope. The cheery chiptune music hits just the right level of jingling without becoming a full-on terrible Christmas carol. The whole package is incredibly polished, and at its release provided a nice sneak peek into how the Dodge Roll style would influence Enter The Gungeon.
Christmas is a surprisingly seldom used theme in video games, and those that do are often aimed at very young children with a basic set of minigames. It is nice to see the polar opposite of this approach; a hard as nails platformer with a unique mechanic and just a smattering of festive adornments. Whether this type of game makes you rage or rejoice, none can deny Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike‘s level of polish and cleverness.
Next time, we will be playing The Room Syndrome, a time travel puzzle game with a unique ASCII aesthetic. The game can be downloaded from Steam here. Discussions are happening in the Discord server, or you can email me if you prefer.