In My Shadow is one of those games that doesn’t require a very long trailer to sell itself. A few frames in and you can see the game’s whole deal and, if you’re like me, that’s enough for you to want the game. And that ‘whole deal’ is really interesting. It has rolled a natural 20 for initiative. But does the execution live up to the high standards set by the promises made in the trailer? Read on to find out.
In My Shadow is a puzzle platformer like I’ve never seen before. It almost entirely separates the ‘puzzle’ and ‘platformer’ sections into two mechanics. The platforming all takes place on a wall where you play as the shadow of a nightmare child (more on her later) who is platforming across shadow platforms and around shadow obstacles (if ‘shadow’ has stopped feeling like a word then you should brace yourself for the rest of this review). ‘But’, I hear you cry out in anguish, ‘where do the shadows come from?’ Well, I’m glad you asked. This is where the puzzle mechanic rears its head. You make the shadows. You have a 3D area away from the wall with a light source along the edge. This area has a number of blocks in it which you can move left and right, to move the shadow platforms, and forward and backwards, to change their size. This is the mechanic in the trailer that sold me on the game. You control the platforming AND the platforms in a thematically perfect way. It’s such a wonderful idea, I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before
Unfortunately, this is where the nice things I have to say about the game start to tail off, as the premise is writing cheques that the execution can’t quite cash.
The least legitimate of the criticism I have relates to the aforementioned nightmare child. The game has a very distinctive doll’s house art style which fits nicely with the shadow based gameplay. However, the way that the child you play as is rendered in that art style is quite unfortunate. She’s a nightmare child. She has a massive head, huge inhuman eyes that feel like the cold dead eyes of a killer and a tiny mouth that can only make expressions in the general category of ‘horrifying’. The overall look is very Chucky from Child’s Play and made me very uncomfortable.
Moving up the scale of legitimate criticisms we have the difficulty. I’m not sure if it’s hard, finicky or some frustrating mix of the two. The platforming itself is quite floaty and imprecise which isn’t amazing when the route you need to take through the course to avoid being killed is often pixel-precise. This is compounded by the amount of control you have. As much as being able to construct the platforms is a great idea, when the challenge of the route is so demanding, you’re constantly asking yourself ‘Am I bad a platforming or do I have the platforms in the wrong place?’ The really irritating thing is that the game knows it’s easy to get stuck on a level so the developers have added a message saying ‘You can skip levels in the pause menu’ which pops up after a few failed attempts. It feels like a last-minute fix to a flawed design.
To turn the frustration factor up to eleven, the game has two more irritations. Firstly, in a prime example of the cardinal sin of platformer design, the time taken between attempts is just a little bit too long. When you die in a difficult platformer you want to get straight back into the game to give it another go. Having a few seconds between level resets significantly builds up your frustration levels and shifts the balance away from endearingly difficult and towards rage-quit difficult. Then, just to make sure the game is as frustrating as possible, the second irritation is added in: the music. It’s a piece of very depressing piano music that repeats after a few bars. It’s rather annoying and I think it would drive you mad even if it were the soundtrack to the most chill game in the world. This is especially annoying where the game has very little audio other than the music, so it’s entirely dominating one of the two senses you’re directing at the game.
In My Shadow is a game with great potential that wastes it all away smoking cigarettes behind the bike sheds. Its report card has a note at the bottom reading ‘Must try harder’. I’m sure it’s very possible to have a great time with In My Shadow but that isn’t the experience I had with the game. However, with such an innovative game idea, I think Playbae is a developer to add to your radar. Despite it all, I’m still excited to see what they do next.