You Have to Win the Game is a freeware platformer by J. Kyle Pittman, released all the way back in 2012, inspired by early attempts at developing rudimentary, text-based games as well as modern indie releases such as VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy. You are trapped in a mysterious and highly hostile underground complex, full of treacherous lich monsters, spikes, and pools of water. On top of it all, you need to figure out the magic word and symbol! But even so, you know what needs to be done. You Have to Win the Game.
Developer: Minor Key Games
Released: 6 May 2012
How do I win the Game?
You begin in a room. “You Have to Start the Game” is the caption you read at the bottom, which changes in each room in a way similar to VVVVVV’s captions. From there, you move around the labyrinth, equipped with just a meager jump and no weapons to fend off dangers. Reaching the exit is probably how you win the game, but there’s some…writing on the walls. Stuff about a magic word and a symbol, perhaps figuring them out is necessary to win!
You’ll find a lot of scattered collectibles, separated by high walls or a wide pit of water. To get to these places, you must find upgrades, usually hidden near “bosses” who shoot bullets in a fixed way and cannot be hurt.
Is It Worth Winning?
You Have to Win the Game is more of a casual Metroidvania than the challenging trials of the indie games it’s inspired by. Though checkpoints and hazards are abundant, you respawn in less than a second if you get hurt. As such, the game isn’t too long with most rooms only being mildly challenging. You can always make it stressfully difficult through Playable Cat mode (9 lives before game over), YOLO mode (no deaths allowed) and play the Extra Spicy campaign. As such, you can consider the game to be a more accessible and easier brand of VVVVVV. The game is short, with playtimes averaging between an hour and two even for completionists. You might feel stuck and forced to double-check everywhere you’ve been as there’s no map, but once you do find an upgrade it feels exciting going to new places.
The magic word and symbol puzzle is probably bound to stump many players though, as it requires applying a function that the game never even remotely hints at. I wouldn’t blame you if you looked up a guide. In fact, I figured out the solution whilst writing this article!
You Have to Win the Game is Minor Key Games’ first rodeo at developing and releasing a game, and a successful one at that. It manages to capture the quiet and mysterious feeling of text-based games with modern indie games, all with utilization of VGA-style graphics that fit quite well in the era of the Commodores and Amigas.
If you have an hour or two to pop, you’ve got nothing to lose by playing this free game. And if you liked it enough, you could play its sequel, Super Win the Game!