PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch
Well this is rather lovely. A platforms-as-puzzles game that takes place within an interactive fiction, presented in beautifully animated pixel art. And, well, you can skip every single puzzle if you want to.
I haven’t, because I enjoyed them, as well as the story they’re within. But that emphasises the focus of this game – it’s a VN first, a puzzle game second. You play as Dysis, a young woman visiting a supposedly deserted island in pursuit of a man called Evan. Working for a corporation called Up-Bring Labs, you’re seeking the company’s missing founder, who after years has written a letter saying this is where he’s located. On arrival you find a series of peculiar, impossible monoliths, which can only be passed by working out the correct series of platforms to jump on to negotiate a path over the high wall on the right side. Or, as it happens, by walking around them if you so wish. It’s weird that more inhabitants of 2D platformers haven’t figured this trick out.
Dysis has a associate from Up-Bring regularly calling her, and soon meets another person, Clover, who has independently found the island in pursuit of a rumoured technology that is supposed to grant immortality. Not for him, but for his dying little sister. They, with entirely separate goals, agree to work together. Meanwhile, in flashback, we learn more details about Clover during his encounter with a guy who’s broken into his house to steal food. Lots of story!
Oh, and the story occasionally notices whether you’re solving puzzles or walking around them, which is a nice touch. And not in a condemnatory way. In fact, so much about the game is directed toward being affirming, including a very nicely put rant by Dysis on why resting is good for you, even when you’re in a hurry to complete something. Well said, Dysis.
I think it’s fair to say, however, that a little too much is said. Or at least, too little is too often said in too many words. Or ellipses. I’m not a fan of ellipses. I mean, I’ll over-use them as much as the next hack, but… I’ve just never understood the role they play in JRPGs, and as a direct consequence, many modern story-led games. Put in here and there they can of course create a dramatic pause that allows the reader to infer a great deal. But when they’re every other sentence, which they always are, they become completely meaningless, just an irritation to click past before anything of use can be read. So, stop it. Everyone stop it at once.
That rant aside, this tale certainly does get a little convoluted. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and all its bonkers twists and turns, but it’s deserving of some degree of critique. Except, I can’t, without giving away big parts of the ending. So let’s leave it at: you’ll definitely notice some plot-holes before the end. There are some lovely touches too, like when the characters comment on the peculiar difficulty curve of the puzzles themselves. Elipsis.
The puzzles work well, and while some may look a little daunting, they certainly err on the side of simplicity. They’re not the main feature here, though – that’s always the story – so make sure you’re approaching this with that in mind.
I can’t over-emphasise how pretty it all is. The backgrounds are wonderful, the meticulously detailed character animations on par with the best I’ve seen. That the vast majority of this game, including not just the art and writing but also its fabulous music, is all by one guy, is astounding.
It certainly could have done with more puzzles toward the final third, and while I was earlier worried it was going to be too ambiguous before it ended, in the end it went far too far in spelling everything out in one enormous expository dump ahead of the credits. And like I say, the plot-holes are a bit frustrating. But then it does so much that I loved, the game itself acting as a critique of such over idealised fairytale storylines that too often appear in gaming. It espouses an interesting range of views and opinions, some I found inspiring, others abhorrent, and doesn’t “judge” them for us as a player while doing so, which was a huge pleasure.
I’m very taken with this, with all its little flaws. A good few hours’ story, with some very decent puzzles thrown in, all for just over a fiver.