Years ago, there was a huge influx of crazy simulation games. We got Surgeon Simulator and Goat Simulator, not to mention a ton of wannabe games cashing in on the trend. They still exist, but they have died down a little in popularity; most of them tend to revolve around obnoxiously difficult controls and border a fine line between ridiculous and downright frustration.

Now we have Pro Gymnast Simulator, a game made by a real gymnast that includes physics reminiscent of real-life gymnastics… but exaggerated to a ridiculous degree. What I expected was a game that could be silly fun, but would likely get irritating quickly. What I was not expecting was an experience so enjoyable that it became one of my highlights of the year so far.

Many thanks to RedDeerGames for the review code.

SWINGING INTO ACTION
The premise of the game is unsurprisingly pretty simple: you’re a gymnast and you want to earn various medals to gain entry into other competitions. Your main base of operations will be in California, but your eventual goal is to gain enough medals to receive an invitation to the tournaments in Japan. There are only these two locations, unfortunately, but the heart of the game’s fun lies in the variety of game mechanics and the various challenges that lie ahead. There’s always something new and that helps distract from the lack of different backgrounds. If there was any real complaint with diversity it would be directed more towards the music tracks, of which there are only a small handful; they’re pleasant enough, but they can start to outstay their welcome by the time you reach the latter half of the game.

As for the gymnast themselves, they are whoever you want them to be: there’s a reasonably robust character creator in tow that allows you to make an avatar that sorta resembles yourself. I managed to create something that vaguely resembled me, although the lack of facial hair options meant that I couldn’t quite make it as close as I would have liked. It was disappointing at first until I realised that the lack of facial hair is barely noticeable in game; my wife still ended up in tears at seeing her husband flail all around the face like something from Jackass.

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FLIPPIN’ FUN
Each competition, whether it be tryouts, qualifiers, or finals, all have a similar structure. You’re presented with a wide assortment of levels that act like mini challenges and you need to use your gymnastic skills in order to reach the goal; sometimes that goal may be a crashmat, other times it may be a pole, or a rope, or pretty much anything really. The analogue sticks and triggers will manipulate your gymnast’s body and the the bumper will release their grip. With those simple foundations, you have all you need to navigate the challenges ahead. In the early game, challenges will be simple and really only get you accustomed to a particular object, but later your skills will be tested to your limits. There’s a nice sense of progression for the most part, although the handy tutorials that pop up in the early game are less frequent later and can leave you a little unsure as to how stuff works. Objects like the trapeze and ropes can be pretty hard to use effectively until you realise that pushing both triggers as you rise up helps build up your swing. Considering how common they are in the later part of the game, they really should have had a tutorial to help you use them well.

Thankfully, if you are having troubles with a particular level, it won’t really block your progress. Each level has four medals awardable for completion, a fast finish, hitting a certain score, and collecting the sugar cube. With plenty available, you should never be in a situation where you’re unable to progress. Even the big jump in requirements needed to reach the invitational in Japan is very much achievable by simply replaying the earlier levels with your improved skills and grabbing some easy medals. It also helps that, because it was made by a real gymnast, the crazy physics tend to make some kind of sense. There’s jank now and then for sure, especially when trying to move your arms, but I rarely felt that it prevented me from beating each challenge. Pretty much every challenge feels do-able and that sense of fun never lets up.

And that is the key word: fun. I wasn’t expecting to like this game so much, yet it left me with a grin from ear to ear the entire time. It felt short by the time I reached the end, but only because the time I spent with the game absolutely flew by. With that ‘one more try’ feel, overcoming each level feels like a real accomplishment and you won’t want to stop. Heck, even when you’ve finished there’s still all the other medals to go back for as well as a level creator to knock together your own challenges. Unfortunately there’s no sharing, nor is there touch screen support, but it’s very simple and intuitive to use, which makes it fun to play around with. Hopefully they add in some type of sharing functionality in the future, as it would be nice to play other people’s creations too.

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Pro Gymnast Simulator took me by surprise by pure joy distilled into one silly little game. There may be some slight issues, such as some objects not having a tutorial to help you figure out how to work and a level creator that lacks a sharing function, but there’s still a load of content here that will keep you entertained for many hours. In a surprising twist, Pro Gymnast Simulator¬†is in the running for one of our GOTY awards this year. Don’t let this great game pass you by, even if you wait until RedDeerGames’ next massive sale.