A Solid Puzzle Game
I love puzzle games. The Witness was one of my favourite games when it dropped on PS4 a few years back while Professor Layton gave me a great hand-held fix on public transport when it originally released back on the DS. Since then, I’ve dabbled in plenty of other titles this genre conjures up, some inevitably better than others. Superliminal then is a game that values quality over quantity and is all the stronger for it. With simple, inventive mechanics and an involving play-time between 2-4 hours, Pillow Games have produced a wonderful little puzzle game here.
The main premise essentially sees you navigate a series of surreal dreamscapes in order to escape and return to the waking world. It’s a simple motive and one that utilizes the same sort of level design as fellow puzzler Q.U.B.E. Each puzzle is separated out into different rooms, with a small (or large depending on the part of the game) hallway to break things up. The very beginnings sees you awaken inside a dream but as you progress further, you descend deeper into this imaginative, cerebral world, taking you to its nightmarish depths and wonderfully abstract corners, all the while using the simple mechanics learnt early on and stretching them as far as you could imagine without ever feeling mundane.
With nothing but a jump and grab button, most of the game sees you take advantage of the landscape around you by manipulating the depth plane and making items bigger or smaller. By strategically placing objects at certain heights or areas, a handy sound effect chimes in informing of your item growing or shrinking. In essence, Superliminal is a game about perspective and using the environment around you to bend and break the conventional rules we’ve come to expect and think outside the box. Something that becomes all too apparent during the aforementioned finale.
This thinking will ultimately make or break the game for you and during the 2 and a half hours I spent seeing this to its conclusion, I only came undone three or four times by tricky puzzles, with solutions that essentially resulted in me leaving the in-game room momentarily, making a coffee, and returning with a fresh perspective and set of ideas. This ingenuity plays out nicely through the game too, making use of repeated sections from earlier in the game but distorting them slightly to break up the constant cycle of puzzles, whilst reinforcing the idea of a dream within a dream.
The puzzles themselves are well-designed and right from the word go Superliminal cleverly sucks you into this world, with a simple tutorial section that quickly expands to showcase the different levels of thinking needed to navigate the world. The opening sections are then followed up by much more imaginative areas and it’s here the game does well to keep things interesting. As the aesthetic changes, so too does the style of puzzle solving, including tense segments in the dark with harsh red signs acting as lonely beacons in a sea of darkness. By contrast, cheery piano chimes play during lavish hotel hallway segments that cheekily play with the idea of perception. All of this culminates in an abstract plane that pushes everything you’ve learnt to the absolute limit, whilst delivering a hypnotic, visual spectacle in the process.
While the graphics aren’t necessarily cutting edge, the use of colour and general level design are second to none. The use of perspective is so cleverly implemented here without ever feeling pretentious and the colours perfectly complement one another throughout the experience. The lighting effects are decent too and a few times I found myself audibly uttering “Oh, that’s clever,” during some of the more challenging segments that required an alternate perspective.
While some people may be turned away by the price tag ($17.99/£13.99) for a game clocking in at a little over the length of a movie, Superliminal is the perfect example of quality over quantity. Every minute is spent wisely here and although some of the later puzzles do suffer a little from repeating the same mechanics and ideas, it’s easy to look past this with such a thematically sound experience.
Although Superliminal falls short of the high bar set for this genre, the clever puzzles and simple mechanics make this a puzzle game well worth checking out. It may not be the best puzzler of the year but it is one of the more imaginative and creative. It’s not too much of a time investment either although your mileage may vary depending on how quickly you manage to figure out the puzzles. Some of the later segments do retread familiar ground too but Superliminal nails its finale with finesse and a brilliantly reflective moral that ties everything together. On the whole though, Superliminal is a simple but enjoyable puzzle game and one I’d absolutely recommend investing some time into.
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Verdict - 7.5/10