Shadows accompany us everywhere. Catching them just out of the corner of your eye, looming as long, sinewy creatures as the sun hangs low in the sky, they occupy many of our deepest fears, but the role of shadows in games is often overlooked, with attention often only being drawn to their visual fidelity. There have been a few more involved experiments with the potential effects of light and dark, however.
A Shadow’s Tale is perhaps the best Wii game that absolutely nobody played (apart from me, of course), and the beautifully art-deco Contrast turned some heads at the start of this generation. Both of these games relied on the idea of a parallel world contained within the shadows cast by foreground objects. Navigating the landscape by manipulating these objects became the core of each game, with puzzles and reaction based moments. Iris.Fall is very much in this vein, with many points of comparison to Contrast in particular, but the majority of its puzzles are more in keeping with the logic and shape conundrums favoured by Mensa tests. The resultant gap between the beautiful presentation and the actual gaming content makes for a slightly underwhelming experience, but one that is not without its charms.
It is the visual flair of Iris.Fall that most immediately hits you. The mostly monochromatic graphics, the smooth animation, and the origami-like artstyle combine to produce a beautiful and cohesive world. Navigating that world involves switching between light and dark forms of your character at appropriately placed books. This approach makes sense, but does mean that the exploration is a little linear given you are effectively just moving between each transformation point. The actual process of controlling Iris is functional enough, but it is more walking sim than platformer and I found myself longing for the more motion-based challenges of A Shadow’s Tale.
Explaining the broad narrative of Iris.Fall would involve spoiling too much of the plot, so suffice it to say that you play as a girl who appears to be separated from a dark, shadowy form of herself. To reconcile this, she must follow a typically mischievous black cat to unravel the mystery of her identity. The papery visuals expands out to include many aspects of childhood, from playrooms to creepy clown-like jack in the boxes. The beauty of this kept me playing despite occasional frustration with individual puzzles, while the payoff to the story is fairly effective, but I’m not sure it is as profound as it thinks it is.
The bulk of the game involves the logic and shape puzzles that will be familiar from other games. There are some basic object retrieval environmental puzzles, but these are fairly rudimentary, while the logic style puzzles offer more challenge, especially if you fail to spot the relevant clues hidden amongst the background . I can’t help but hope that a later patch enables some of the puzzles to be skipped after a certain amount of time, as the shape manipulation will surely provide some accessibility issues.
At least two puzzles were a little too abstract for my liking, the first being a repeated lamp-lighting take on a Rubik’s cube. The clash between the 2.5D presentation and the need to conceptualise such a 3D shape didn’t really work for me and I felt as if I was reduced to brute-forcing my way through rather than approaching it with any elegance. Similarly, a later puzzle involving closing a number of eyes on a wall seemed to have no particular rhyme nor reason to it, but I am fully aware that I may have missed a clue in this one. These two became significant roadblocks and forced me to walk away for a while to avoid frustration. It is particularly telling, therefore, that my completed game time sits at under 3 hours, even when these two puzzles took at least 30 minutes between them.
Iris.Fall is a deliberately bite-sized experience and could easily be completed in a single sitting. Whether this amounts to value for money obviously depends on your perspective, but given the relative cost compared to a DVD or Blu-ray I think it is worth picking up to experience the artistry at hand here. The visual design is exemplary and the narrative is pleasing enough. Definitely a game that is worth a look if you like the art style and the idea of the puzzles, but be prepared for a couple of frustrating moments. Iris.Fall shouldn’t be left in the shadows.