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Puzzle game Iris.Fall is gorgeous but very tedious

Iris.Fall comes from Tencent's developer, Next Studios

25 Jan, 2019 9:42am EDT
Buy
If you are a hardcore fan of puzzle games, or artsy games, or eerie game music
Don't Buy
If you care about storytelling and like games that don't involve thinking

What if your shadow was alive? What if you could become your shadow?

If you’ve watched Naruto, you’ve seen Shikamaru’s shadow jutsu. And if you’re more of a  Game of Thrones person, you’ve seen Melisandre’s terrifying shadow assassin.

Well, now you can experience what it’s like to be a shadow in Iris.Fall, a new puzzle game from Tencent's in-house developer Next Studios. You play as a little girl, Iris, who ventures into a dilapidated theatre -- much in the style of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Rather than murder people, your power is that Iris can turn into a shadow, and interact with the shadows of other objects.

OK, let’s say there’s a broken staircase in the real world. The proper, physical version of Iris can’t cross it.

But there’s also a spotlight in the room, casting a shadow on the staircase. If Iris finds an object that casts a shadow that “connects” with the staircase’s shadow, her shadow form can then cross the completed shadow staircase.

(Trying to break a record for most times the word “shadow” has been used in a paragraph. Did I do it?)

Iris transforms into her shadow form by interacting with a spell book. (Picture: NEXT Studios)

Iris.Fall isn’t the first puzzle game to play with the manipulation of light and shadow -- Contrast was a big one a few years back. But what makes Iris.Fall stand out is its beautiful art and amazing soundtracks.

The whole game looks like and feels like a beautiful, gothic storybook, drawn with a mostly monochrome colour palette.  

This makes Iris.Fall feel quite distinct from Contrast. While Contrast is a 3D title cradled in The Nightmare Before Christmas-esque film noir aesthetic, Iris.Fall is actually a 2.5D game, with every frame looking like an exquisite drawing.

But that’s not to say that the visuals of Iris.Fall are without flaws. Standing in stark contrast with the beautiful drawings in the background, character movements are very jittery, which sticks out like an eyesore compared with the rest of the visuals.

There is a chapter in the game where Iris literally gets stuck in a storybook. (Picture: Next Studios)

In contrast, the music is terrific. It’s eerie, deliberately out-of-tune and infinitely fascinating, which really elevates the atmosphere of the game.

As much as the presentation impressed me, the gameplay and storytelling are sadly underwhelming.

There’s no text or voiceover during the game itself -- the story is told by cutscenes in the form of motion comics as well as the in-game puzzles themselves. While that might sound impressive, it’s not all that effective. Only some of the puzzles are relevant to the story, while others seem to exist for no rhyme or reason.

While the highlight of the game are undoubtedly the puzzles that play with light and shadow, they’re not the only ones in the game. There are also other puzzles, like Rubik’s Cube-ish ones, to interpreting a numeric system. To be honest, most of them just boil down to various forms of “find the right combination” -- something I personally struggled with. Facing puzzles like that back-to-back-to-back can get quite taxing.

It also makes the game feel less like a considered experience and more like a collection of random puzzles, with few thematic ties between them. (Or maybe they’re so cryptically linked that I just didn’t see it.)

The story of the game is also a little underwhelming, and I didn’t feel like there was an effective payoff at the end. Rather than seeing anything profound, during the ending I was just waiting for it to be over.

Overall, Iris.Fall is undoubtedly gorgeous, but monotonous in terms of gameplay and storytelling. It’s only worth playing if you’re a hardcore puzzle game fan.

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