Everything is a matter of perspective.
Genre: First Person, Puzzle
Developer: Pillow Castle,
Publisher: Pillow Castle,
Release Date: 12 Nov, 2019
A long time ago there was a Canadian Television show called Kids in the Hall. I can tell you that I eagerly watched pretty much every episode of that show as it had some really winning sketches such as the “Someone’s Going to Get a $1000” comic skit as well as some spoofs I would prefer not to even remember at all. Mixed in there somewhere was the “Head Crusher” series of sketches. In it a man looked between his fingers to see just the heads of people which he then proceeded to pretend to crush. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was actually quite humorous when you got to see it. Basically, the idea is that from his perspective the people were small and easily crushed in comparison to the reality where their heads were actually bigger than his fingers. Superliminal does a great job of taking this concept and running with it.
About The Game
Superliminal is a puzzle game of sorts and is reminiscent of the Portal series. In the Portal series, you primarily used the Portal gun mechanics to solve puzzles all while having to deal with an AI that doesn’t exactly care if you survive or not just so long as the testing is completed. Superliminal has you enter a dream world where your sense of reality is twisted a bit. Objects are exactly the size they look to you. If the object is small but you move it closer to yourself, it will suddenly start looking bigger. If you then set it down it will keep its newfound size. The same thing goes if you move something further away from you, it will look smaller and if you pick it up while it is further away it will keep on being smaller. It’s kind of a hard mechanic to describe but the concept works rather well. It took me a bit to get used to the idea but eventually, once I got the hang of it, the action was actually quite novel and fun. The game relies heavily on things not always looking like what they are as well as giving you the ability to resize most interactive things. You also have to think outside the box a little in order to solve all of the puzzles. To help you along there is an AI lady who I’m not entirely sure is on your side.
As mentioned, this is a puzzle game that relies heavily on perspective to impact the size of objects. If something is large and blocking your way, move until it looks smaller and then pick it up and set it aside. Is the exit too high for you to reach and all you have is some silly little object? Lift it up into the air and drop it. The object moving towards you will make it appear larger. Do it enough times that you can reach where you want to go! There are other ways to make things look bigger or smaller but those are two of the effective ways to do it. Also, just because something reacted in one way when you picked it up before doesn’t mean it will always act that way when you encounter another one. The game is kind of trippy in that regard.
As you move through the environment, reality around you tends to warp a bit. Things may not always be as they appear. You can be in a room and stuck to find a way to get out of the exit and then you will discover that the wall isn’t even really a wall. Dimensional folding also will eventually occur a bit where you can actually be inside the object you are moving around.
I can’t really talk too much more about the gameplay without ending up in spoiler territory so I will move on to a little more about the game in general. The game is either short, coming in at around an hour or so of gameplay or one that I happened to be particularly good at which allowed me to speed through the levels. I do consider myself to be a bit of an expert when it comes to solving logic puzzles and other sorts of puzzle games so it probably is a combination of me being good at puzzle-solving and a short game with a bit of luck thrown in. While I could see some of the puzzles being challenging for someone who may not be used to this type of play, I was able to figure them all out without any help or guides. Some of the puzzles had pretty clever solutions even if I do say so myself. Need to get a giant object up a hill that is protected by an immovable fan? The correct answer isn’t how should you go about doing it, the correct answer is “Why should you even try to do that? Did you learn nothing from Sisyphus? There has to be a better way!” There is a bit of a hint there, but anything more would be a spoiler.
Some of the areas in the game were less about solving the puzzle and more about solving it in just the right way the game will accept it. There were a few puzzles that I solved quickly and tried to move on just to find that the solution I devised apparently didn’t work. I then tried to come up with other solutions until eventually I ended up retrying my first solution and suddenly it worked. It’s likely due to mild pixel perfection issues where the game needs you to view the item from this exact angle for it to register even if the near angles give the exactly the same complete perspective. It’s a bit of a spoiler but I will mention one of the solutions as an example. Printed on the wall is a checkered cube. The first one is easy and pops pretty easily but when this same puzzle is repeated moments later it didn’t work. It’s a slightly more complicated puzzle that involves lining up another object in the room with it besides just seeing it as a cube. Spotting the object was easy enough, but it simply would not register the “fit” leaving me to originally believe it was meant as a troll rather than the solution. The game does like to troll you a bit from time to time so I didn’t put it past it to be trolling rather than simply repeating a puzzle with a little bit more challenge. Long story short, the solution was to just line that object up with it for it to pop, but it took very fine adjustments to my position and view for it to actually work. This issue does crop up again a few times throughout the entire game. Not enough to really hurt the game, but it does needlessly complicate some of the puzzles due to the dissonance between the aforementioned trolling the game likes, to running up against pixel perfection issues.
Graphically speaking, this game looks exactly like it should for this genre of games. While there are a lot of recycled props and areas, they are not always true to form duplications. Sometimes the item will behave differently when you see it again. A great example of this is when you pick up an item the first time, it has its basic three dimensions intact. When you encounter it again, it will look the same until you rotate it and see that the side you couldn’t see before is actually the unfinished side of the prop much like you would see in a play. These fine touches make the game quite visually appealing. The first-person perspective works well in the game, having a shoulder view or third person view wouldn’t work as well with this game although it might make for an interesting twist if your character’s body parts morphed sizes depending on how you looked at your character. Would actually make for interesting puzzle solutions. Can’t reach an area? Extend your arms or legs or both!
The environment you move around in changes as you progress. Early on it is your typical boring office setting but as reality starts to fade away the environment changes subtly with it. Until later levels, I wouldn’t say the effect is all that drastic but just nuanced enough to keep things interesting.
Objects that you can interact with are usually fairly obvious and stand out enough that you won’t ever have to hunt for a needle in a haystack, but not all obvious objects are interactive! Usually, the item stands out in some way that lets you know it is probably important. Sometimes it is a bit clever like the aforementioned checkered cube but if you pay enough attention it shouldn’t stump you for long (unless the game doesn’t register that you did it right, then you might be stumped for a while!)
The game has background music that is subtle enough to not be obtrusive but helps set the atmosphere nicely. The AI and the Doctor both speak to you in English (which if you have read my previous reviews as of late is actually something of a novelty for me now! Arigato for that!) I did enjoy the personality differences that the voice actors were able to convey. The Doctor always introduced himself and had something pleasant enough to say. The AI also seemed rather pleasant but a little on the shady side. Kind of like maybe she is the previous generation of GLaDOS.
User Interface and Controls
This is where it is going to be challenging! Both the controls and the User Interface are basic. They work well and are not at all complicated. It’s precisely the kind of controls and UI that a game of this genre should have. No complicated button combinations, no needless tool switching, no complicated drop-down menu, just plain and simple easy to follow clickables.
When we turn our attention to the item manipulation elements is where it will get tricky to discuss. The perspective system works decently well. Most of the time it does exactly what you want it to do. Sometimes it can be a bit hard to place objects exactly where you want them because if you move closer the item will shrink, but if you just drop it where it is you might leave too big of a gap for you to jump across. Once you get a handle on how to do things properly it isn’t so bad, but I did sometimes find myself having to relocate items to allow me to proceed. Most of the time it worked well, but sometimes it ended up having me resize the item again just because the perspective was now off.
So, should you pick up Superliminal? If you are looking for a new puzzle game with an interesting quirky mechanic that isn’t just jumping puzzles, pattern recognition or button pressing then Superliminal will be one for you. It’s also a great game for someone who would like to dabble in the Puzzle genre without worrying about it being too difficult for them to solve their way through. My only real complaint is the game is kind of short. It feels like it could easily be a much longer game without resorting to simply cloning levels with a little extra challenge added to them. It’s actually a pretty decent length all things considered though, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. I think I mostly just want more of the Doctor via his tapes/radio and the AI talking to me as I solve stuff. Plus, I felt like I was really starting to get good at it when suddenly it was over. I would certainly play the sequel if there was one but, hopefully, it will take a page from Portal and make the second game a much more epic title than the first game was. Portal 2 feels to me like the definitive Portal game whereas Portal 1 was more of a prototype. Either way, Superliminal is definitely a Save for me.