Depending on your superstitious nature, the sight of a black cat will fill you with either love or loathing. The very sight of one of these felines will either bring you good luck or curse you. I’m not a true believer in superstition, but even I know that black cats are not good news. This thought process was reinforced in my latest review title, Iris Fall.
Developed by NExT Studios and published by NExT Studios, PM Studios and Tencent Games, this dark puzzle adventure title asks you to control a young girl named Iris, whose curiosity ensures that she gets trapped in a twisted fairy tale world. She must manipulate the light to solve the problems she faces, while following the black furred cat that dragged her into this mess.
The creepy, gothic environment that you explore will send shivers down your spine, as will the stunning artwork that forms the backbone of this gorgeous piece. The main game mechanic of light manipulation has been done to death, but how the developers have utilised it alongside their artistic approach meant that I instantly forgave their lack of originality, and strapped myself in for a glorious ride into some weird and wonderful experiences.
Puzzle games can be hit and miss with their difficulty!
What instantly struck me as I traversed the bizarre rooms, avoiding murderous looking dolls and bears, while searching for the next item to grab, was the ease at which I could work through the puzzles I found. The developers balanced the difficulty perfectly, ensuring that most players will complete the trials before them, but those that want to obtain all the achievements would have to be perfect during each attempt. This generous approach should ease the concern from any new gamers to the genre, whereas veteran players will still find enough challenge to want to try this as well.
The game takes place over 7 Chapters, with a finale section that must be played through as well. As you progress, you must think about; the items you find, how to alter the objects you see, and how their shadows will assist you as you transport yourself to the dark side. This light manipulation mechanic to forge new paths is nothing new, but when the developers merged it with their delightful art style, it was a joy to explore the world you were in. You will be asked to turn and twist furniture and stairs to cast shadows onto the wall behind. Mannequins must be moved and posed to complete images, and light beams altered to blind the all-seeing eyes. The problems don’t simply fall into a 2D category, the rooms you investigate become the puzzle and the solution. All you need to do is understand how light and dark will overcome your issues.
The gameplay flows nicely!
Each chapter is refined to a few cluttered rooms. Desired objects are easy to locate with a white orb hovering nearby, and your black cat guide stays with you throughout. The only thing that will stop you proceeding is if you cannot solve the puzzles. Stunning cutscenes fill the gaps in the action, keeping the gameplay flowing nicely. It’s described exclusively with imagery and music, no spoken dialogue is used, and with the detail shown, and the emotion created through the audio, it would have been an overkill if there were speech applied.
I’ve gushed about the beauty of this game enough already, but yet I’m going to mention it again. Each of the chapters uses a hand drawn predominately black and white approach that emphasises the gothic nature. The dolls, bears and other children’s toys that litter the landscape make this an eerie title to enjoy. The distinct art style was reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. It is bizarre to look at, and I spent most of my time waiting for something to jump out at me. The developers should be very proud of the world they have created, and the detail that it contains, it’s an excellent example of an indie title done to a very good standard.
The audio continues on with this high level of quality. The melancholy and uneasy atmosphere is supported superbly by the accompanying sad piano music. The footsteps of Iris can be heard throughout, the echoed sounds symbolise her lonely existence in this dank and dark fairy tale. The sound effects that are used to create the ambient sound are haunting, and if you are like me and have a phobia of clowns and carnivals, then you will find an awful lot of this unbearable. The shrill fairground style noises chilled my blood, constantly putting me on edge. The aesthetics experienced in this game are up there with the best I’ve seen from an indie developer.
Enough of the praise. Surely it’s not perfect?
It’s very good, for sure, but unfortunately the last two portions of my review are the weakest elements; the controls and the replay value. The controls are easy to get to grips with, but her movement is slow, arduous and clunky. You’ll walk into objects, catch yourself on the environment, and stumble around like you have had one too many beers. For such a great looking and sounding game, the controls were a bit too clumsy for my liking, and should have been refined to improve the player experience.
With the puzzle genre, I feel like a stuck record when discussing the lack of replay value. It’s the worst category for replayability, and I’ve come to terms with that. Yet, when a game is as good as this one, I wish that there was more for me to get to grips with. To clear all the chapters without perfecting the puzzles will take you around 2 hours, if you then return using chapter select to master the solutions, and unlock all the achievements, you will add around 1 to 2 hours depending on your skill level. At $19.99 you don’t get a lot of game for your money, but the brilliance of the short playthrough makes this a worthy title to add to your library.
This was one monochromatic journey that I adored. The stunning visuals, atmospheric audio, creepy imagery, and accessible puzzles make this a game that should be purchased. Yes, the game mechanics have been done to death, and the eerie concept is as old as the hills, yet the combined elements work in perfect harmony. It will not surprise you that I recommend that you should play Iris Fall, I just wish all indie developers could take a leaf out its book. Following a black cat into a weird world was a big mistake, but can you overcome all the puzzles and get to the other side? I’m pretty sure you can.