“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?” – Mikhail Bulgakov
Puzzle-platformer, In My Shadow, tells the story of Bella, a young woman who fell out with her family years ago and now doesn’t know how to respond to her estranged father’s unexpected text message. As she subsequently reflects on her childhood memories they come to life in the form of shadows on the wall. Players must manipulate objects to create a path through the recollections and ultimately help Bella to finally let go of her past.
Developer: Playbae Games
Released: 08th April 2021
Available on: Steam
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
In My Shadow begins with a 3D house opening like a book to reveal four rooms inside, each one representing a chapter of the game and containing over 50 levels in total. Within each level, players must manipulate items within the room in order to create a navigable path through the shadows that also enables Bella to pick up collectables that are essential to progression. Each chapter represents a different member of her family and the endpoint of levels within each room will be that particular relative.
Whilst the basic principle of the game remains constant there is some variation in mechanics across the chapters. The possible movement patterns and abilities of different objects vary greatly, some items break after one use, some are fixed, some do not cast shadows. Similarly, there is a range of obstacles presented as the game progresses, such as vertical and horizontal rows of spikes and spiky cogs that can move or rotate. There is also a distinct mechanic for each chapter, for example, chapter three introduces multidirectional lighting and chapter four has portals!
In My Shadow is tricky from the start, though its difficulty curve is more of a wave with chapter one being more of a challenge than some of the later sections. The puzzles can be quite difficult, despite this, the game manages to maintain a relaxed and casual feel throughout, failure simply returns the player to the beginning of the level with all other progress and actions saved. The challenges presented are based on logic and dexterity and are ultimately very satisfying to complete.
The only real frustration comes from the controls, which are not as smooth or responsive as they need to be to execute the often precise movements required by the object placement and even more so by the game’s platformer elements.
Following the first contact from her father in over 3 years, Bella proceeds to reminisce about her childhood, reflecting on her past experiences and actions, the influence this had on her development and how she handles conflict as an adult. At its most basic, it is a story about family, drifting apart and growing as a person. While this sounds interesting on the surface, the delivery leaves a lot to be desired.
In between every few levels there is a short cutscene consisting of a series of 2D artworks and short phrases from Bella’s internal monologue as accompanying text. One could possibly forgive the bland and disconnected narrative design if it weren’t for the writing which lacks characterisation, subtlety, and nuance. It is hard to tell if the dialogue is intentionally simplistic in a bid to connect it to the childhood memories being navigated but it does manage to simultaneously spoon-feed the player and tell them very little.
There are so many great examples of gameplay being interwoven with the narrative design to connect the player to the story in tangible and original new ways (such as in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons). In My Shadow fails to create such a meaningful experience with almost no correlation between the puzzle-platformer gameplay and the story. Overall, the game’s promotional material oversells the narrative aspects of this game which actually come across as more of an afterthought.
The general aesthetic of In My Shadow is simplistic but very colourful, providing a good contrast with the shadows. More specifically, the gameplay section is presented in a fairly basic 3D style with very familiar textures and models and little in the way of originality. Unfortunately, the 2D art style of the interspersed cutscenes, whilst a little more organic, is just as underwhelming.
Music is quite limited, with one extended track playing throughout on a loop however it is a nice relaxing melody consisting of piano, delicate woodwind and other soft sounds, fitting the laid back feel of the game and often fading to pleasant background noise.
Overall, In My Shadows is a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst a little unpolished, its puzzle-platformer side is relatively original, providing two distinct types of challenge requiring the player to work out the puzzle and then separately execute the solution in a satisfying way. The music, whilst minimal, is also one of the game’s more positive aspects.
Unfortunately, the game gives the impression that it was constructed around a solid but solely mechanic puzzle platformer concept with unremarkable visuals and an awkwardly executed narrative design. The story feels shoehorned in and detached from the rest of the experience and adds very little to it. While I might tentatively recommend this to someone looking for a laid back puzzle game, those looking for a meaningful narrative or a story-focused experience should look elsewhere.