Ministry of Broadcast is a bleak game. In it, you play as Orange, a man living under a totalitarian regime where families are divided by a construct known as the Wall. The only way for Orange to see his family is if he conquers a reality TV show where deadly traps lie in wait. As you can imagine, the game has a lot to say about the state of modern society.
This review has been republished today to coincide with Ministry of Broadcast’s release on the Switch this week.
Ministry of Broadcast, out now on Steam, is largely inspired by Eastern European history with a Soviet gulag-inspired aesthetic. (The sign outside the camp where Orange stays declares the location ‘NOT GULAG’.) Its pixel art style is charming, but the game itself is far from cute.
As Orange, players are tasked with conquering a shifting gauntlet of obstacles and puzzles that often require obtuse thinking as well as careful leaps. These challenges include leaping between shaky, frost-covered scaffolding, crossing pits filled with spikes and escaping the snapping fangs of wolves. When Orange first sets off on his reality TV adventure, the game doesn’t quite spell out what’s at stake, but the further you go, the more deadly these traps become.
The puzzles start off simply enough, and there’s even a quirky little side quest involving Orange’s missing boot that adds a layer of humour to the game. There’s funny little moments throughout, and they help to break up the narrative’s darker themes. Importantly, they also distract the player from the bleak reality that Orange faces.
The world of Ministry of Broadcast is a dystopia. It’s ruled by an unforgiving, brutal regime. Throughout the episodes of Orange’s reality TV journey, he’s forced to hurt people so he can see his family. Repeatedly, the game asks how far players of the game are willing to go for love. Pushing people into pits so you can walk on their bodies is cruel, but if it’s in the name of love, does it still count? Morality is a key theme within the game’s narrative, and the further you go, the more people you crush beneath your (single) boot.
The game’s platforming levels, interspersed throughout the main narrative, are often harrowing and can be more than a bit frustrating. This is partially to do with the fact that it’s a difficult game, but blame also lies on its stiff controls. Ministry of Broadcast is inspired by the original Prince of Persia, with jumping and moving mechanics that greatly resemble it. Leaping up and between platforms is an exercise in precision, and even being a pixel off can lead Orange to fall to his death. When you add snow to the equation, the situation gets even trickier.
While some platforming puzzles are easy to solve (button pushes can unlock helpful tools like grates and ladders), others are complicated by dense sequences of platforming that require perfect jumps. There’s one particular segment early in the game that features a segmented climb across icy scaffolding. Miss a single beat along the way, and you’ll be forced to repeat the entire level over again. It makes for a blood-boiling experience, especially when you’re sure you’ve timed a jump correctly.
Likewise, there’s frustration to be found in obstacles like the wolves. Periodically, challenges will involve a bloodthirsty wolf being unleashed into a room. They move much faster than Orange, so it’s essential to give him some breathing space before setting up an escape attempt. Because the controls tend to be slightly jarring and difficult to master, it’s hard to get him to safety in time. While I wouldn’t called the controls unrefined, they do take some getting used to. In the meantime, you’ll probably die a lot.
What sticks out most about Ministry of Broadcast is that while platforming is the key focus of the game, narrative plays an equally important part. Orange’s story is told through small vignettes that break up the gameplay, and his character progression in these snippets is heartbreaking to watch. Each TV episode brings new challenges for our unfortunate protagonist, and while the game often masks his journey with dark humour, Orange has a clear and meaningful character arc.
When he originally agrees to participate in the reality TV deathtrap, he only thinks of the eventual joy of seeing his family. By the end of the game, he seems distant and world-weary, far removed from the bright-eyed and hopeful character players first see. At the start, he’s worried about the people he abuses to get ahead. He apologises and asks if they’re okay. By the end, he shrugs at the rampant chaos and death he causes, and willingly pushes people aside as he gets closer to winning the game. It’s easy to read it as a commentary on how modern society crushes dreams and transforms them into terrifying realities.
Ministry of Broadcast has an important message. While it’s hampered somewhat by finicky platforming mechanics, its narrative arc and character development is hard-hitting and well told. The visuals look great too, and the game’s puzzles are satisfying and multi-layered. Sure, you might have to sacrifice a few people along your Broadcast journey, but does it really count if you’re having fun?
Ministry of Broadcast is out now for PC through Steam, and comes to Switch in April this year.