Few things in life are guaranteed, except for; ageing, death and taxes. Like Heal: Console edition, I’m going to focus my attention on ageing and the complications it brings. The older we get, the wiser we become. Our experiences teach us about things we never knew. Yet this newfound knowledge has a downside as old age brings; pain, illness and a variety of debilitating inflictions, such as dementia.
Developed by Jesse Makkonen and published by Ratalaika Games, this is a touching portrayal of an elderly man. He has lived a long and full life, but now he is losing his identity to dementia. Who he was is now fading away, replaced by a new version. He must solve riddles in his mind to unlock his past and realise who he is becoming.
Heal: Console edition is a tough concept to understand.
I will not pretend to be an expert on the subject, as I ashamedly know little about dementia. My limited knowledge tells me about the heartbreak it brings to loved ones, when you lose the mind of the person you once knew. Heal: Console edition attempts to convey this with a narrative that is born from a strong and obscure atmosphere. A lack of direction and dialogue leaves you feeling isolated and alone as you attempt to solve the many challenges your mind presents.
Created by the team behind the DISTRAINT series, this puzzle title has a great pedigree for taboo and difficult to understand subjects. The story is one of adventure and puzzle-solving across seven chapters. Each stage has a surreal and obscure look. The world you explore is open to interpretation, and you are free to assume that you are witnessing key moments from the man’s pasts. But perhaps the imagery represents something deeper? Maybe it shows his new state of mind and the puzzles are simply a way for him to understand who he is now?
However you look at it, you’ll be touched by its emotion, and the lesson it’s attempting to teach. After all, the protagonist could be you or me, or a loved one in the future.
A challenging subject, simply portrayed.
What is glorious about the gameplay is the simplicity of its approach. It would have been easy to create a weird and dreamlike world that was devoid of any realism. Instead, the developers steered clear of this cliché, with simple imagery. This approach worked perfectly and made the subject more touching.
The old man shuffles from puzzle to puzzle without a care in the world. The slow pace never alters, and I liked how this dragged out the gameplay. Every challenge felt arduous and time consuming. This single focus showed that dementia had consumed his life, leaving little room for anything other than solving the mystery of his mind.
Logic-based puzzles and no hints.
Each chapter followed the same process. Enter the room, explore the small space, and solve the puzzles. There is a specific order that must be adhered to, and this is where some trial and error and luck come into the equation. Once you work out what’s to be done, you must work through each set of logic-based problems. Many involve moving levers, adjusting pictures, and finding number combinations. As a general rule, they weren’t overly difficult. Though the challenge increased as the game progresses.
The only complaint I have is with the lack of hand-holding and hints if you get stuck. You either find a solution, or you don’t move on, it’s that simple. Perhaps it’s a poignant reminder of the theme of the game, and the frustration that occurs when you can’t unlock a thought or memory. Or maybe it was an oversight by the developers. Either way, it could force you to quit early or go looking for a guide to find the solution.
Beautiful hand-drawn images.
Visually, Heal: Console edition is exactly what I hoped for. Its hand-drawn imagery gives it a rustic finish that matches the theme perfectly. The sepia and cool tones add age and the simplicity of the level designs allows you to focus on the wonderfully detailed puzzles. Colour was added in what can only be described as memory flashes. These oppressive images use black and vivid tones to convey meaning and were in keeping with the obscurity of the narrative. Its straightforward approach was refreshing, and it didn’t overcomplicate the matter.
The audio emphasised the slow-paced nature of the game. There were no bells and whistles, and it gets straight to the point with an emotive and melancholy piano score. The touching music complimented the imagery and helped to convey the surreal and unusual atmosphere.
Easy to play, but lacks replay value.
You are introduced to the gameplay with a simple, yet thorough tutorial. This tells you the basic controls and the puzzle-solving fundamentals. The control setup is easy to understand, and the game uses a point and click approach to move around the stage. This might be easier to play with a mouse and keyboard. However, I had no issues with my controller and found it to be responsive.
The first run-through is a fantastic emotional roller-coaster. It has some missable achievements from its small list which adds some replay value. Sadly though, it lacks any other reason to return. But, at only around £4, it’s a small price to pay for a great indie title. It’s well worth the purchase, even if it lacks replayability.
Heal: Console edition is touching and well thought out.
With a misunderstood and taboo subject, it’s easy for a developer to set its benchmark at the level of people’s misconceptions. A sensitive subject can be misconstrued and stereotypes compounded. Luckily, Jesse Makkonen approaches the subject in a thoughtful and touching way. With a simple yet beautiful presentation, and well-designed puzzles, this is a game I recommend. You can buy a copy here! Will you be able to solve the problems and get closer to the end goal? Take your time in this slow-paced puzzler and unlock the mysteries of his mind.