What lies in the multiverse, Who’s Lila?, Tunic, and A memoir blue.
2022 has been a weak year for gaming thus far for me. I am not a FromSoftware guy and don’t really feel the urge to try any of their new games, but Elden Ring may be my first simply because there’s seemingly nothing else coming out! Having said that, with games like Wild West and a backlog filled to the brim, this is a good chance to catch up on some old games. In terms of new releases though, indie games are (once again) picking up the slack, and there have been a few that I wanted to talk about.
I want to start with Tunic because it is a game that I won’t be reviewing because I haven’t gotten that deep into before deciding to call it quits. I like the art style, the nostalgic and mysterious mood, the gameplay is decent and challenging, and the sense of discovery is very strong. Having said all of that, I spent a few hours with it and stopped. I like a good Zelda-like and Tunic is certainly that, but I think that (just like with monster-catching JRPGs) I’ve hit an internal limit and need a break from the genre in order to get invested in one again. I’m only mentioning it because people should give Tunic a chance – it deserves it.
What lies in the multiverse is a narrative-driven, puzzle-platformer from developer Studio Voyager and IguanaBee, published by Untold Tales. It’s about a boy stumbling upon a formula that transports him into the Multiverse and goes on an adventure with Everett, a fugitive on the run from the Multiverse’s version of the Feds. I remember playing the demo in a previous Summer Fest and being really excited by the game’s potential; the puzzles were fun and the story was jokey and dark at the same time. Fortunately, the game is pretty good; unfortunately, it comes nowhere near what I had hoped it would be and feels kind of forgettable because of it. That is partly my fault though. What lies in the multiverse is a game that reminds me of my experience with the latest Spider-Man movie; the concept lends itself to some really exciting and interesting storytelling, but the game never really wants to follow that path – it just wants to say a few goofy jokes and execute the puzzle-platformer aspects. As a puzzle platformer, I had a blast with it. The core ability is that of switching between two worlds at will, where each world is the same but with different timelines happening in it; for example, there is a pretty memorable and early example of a bar that you find in one timeline being perfectly normal and in the other being fortified with the previously friendly bartender now pointing a shotgun at you and warning you to leave. In terms of puzzles, this idea is explored in interesting ways; one world will see you switch between timelines where one is dry and the other is icey, in order to use the ice to gain momentum and leap great distances. The only real issue I have with the game is the sluggish movement speed that, at times, prevented me from fully exploring the level or frustrated me when I needed to backtrack. Apart from that, the challenge was pretty spot on as I never really got stomped by a difficult puzzle, but I never found one that I considered to be too easy. Beyond the puzzle-platformer, the narrative is a core feature of the game and I was fairly disappointed in that; I get that the developers wanted a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, but the jokes were mostly duds that conjured no response from me, and the interesting routes not taken were becoming increasingly bizarre. For example, in that previous desert/ice world, there are scientists who are alive and well in the desert timeline but frozen solid in the ice timeline. During the hunt for that level’s collectibles, I did encounter one story that was interesting, but it only made the fact that this premise was left unexplored or as filler even more painful; it is just begging for a cutscene, a conversation, more collectibles fleshing out the world, or even more background storytelling. Instead, the developers decided to focus on a mystery that never made me care about the main characters or the actual mystery since it felt pretty inconsequential and not that interesting, to begin with. Having said that, What lies in the multiverse is a pretty good experience that I would recommend to puzzle-platforming fans interested in the gimmick of the game, as it gets that aspect right.
Who’s Lila? is a complete inverse of What lies in the multiverse in that it nails the atmosphere, the writing, the visuals, and its quite ambitious goals, but it completely fumbles an interesting mechanical gimmick that will attract (and disappoint) a lot of players. Developed by Garage Heathen (who I believe is a solo developer) and published by them and Indieark, Who’s Lila? is about William, a guy that needs to shape his face in order to show emotions properly, going about his day after the sudden disappearance of Tanya Kennedy who his friends say was the last person to see her. As you may have already guessed, Who’s Lila? is a horror game with point & click elements, but the unique idea behind this game is that instead of picking dialogue choices or making decisions through menus, the player shapes William’s face to portray different emotions that will then have an impact on how he responds; for example, when your landlady greets you, you get to choose how to respond by shaping a frown or a smile. This aspect of the game was not fun or entertaining for me, but it did lead to moments of dark humor and ‘creepy pasta’ horror; the janky and finicky points that shape William’s face sometimes provide funny faces that made me laugh out loud or uncanny valley faces that intensified the horror. Having said that, I quickly turned on “easy mode” because I grew tired of running out of time while still trying to shape the emotion I was aiming for, and despite the surprisingly positive moments that I derived from that gimmick, most of them were frustrating moments of not being able to do what I wanted. Furthermore, there were moments when I got stuck and needed to consult a guide to understand what I was missing or what I was supposed to do next, but that is a common theme for me with adventure games. The gimmick, then, is not the reason I’m recommending Who’s Lila?. Instead, everything else about this game is. The mysterious atmosphere and the slowly building dread of starting to realize what is going on; the increasingly bizarre and off-putting situations the game puts you in and shows to you. Like last year’s Inscryption, you will see a lot of people recommending the game and warning you to go in with as little knowledge as possible and I would second that sentiment; it’s not as ambitious as you may think, but it does what it sets out to do with style and flair. There are many endings to get, each having their own piece of the puzzle along the way, each being interesting and pulling you deeper as you get them.
Lastly, I played through Annapurna Interactive’s latest published game A memoir blue from Cloisters Interactive. This is a narrative-driven adventure game about a swimmer who begins a journey through her memories to confront and come to peace with her relationship with her mum. The game is beautiful-looking (in particular the contrast between the stylized photorealistic style for the backgrounds and the swimmer with a cartoonish presentation of her memories) with an evocative soundtrack, a wordless narrative that does hit a few strings; the problem being that is most of what these types of games are and A memoir blue does nothing to differentiate itself. The mini-game interactions feel like pandering or as an excuse to make this story in a video-game format; the narrative is emotional and very personal, but these types of games often are both; clocking in at an hour and despite the low price-point, it feels skippable. Maybe it’s because I have so many fond games from this genre, but I’ve become stricter with games from this genre; just last year, a game like Before Your Eyes blew me away with a unique gimmick (that didn’t even work for me) and a narrative that had more than meets the eye going on. A memoir blue is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a game that I’m glad was on Gamepass because I didn’t need to weigh its price against the experience it provided.