First-person puzzlers with quirky mechanics interwoven into them aren’t too hard to come by these days, with Valve setting the puzzling cogs in motion back in 2007 with the release of the critically acclaimed Portal. Since then, players have worked through an abundance of facilities whilst utilising a myriad of unique puzzling mechanics across a wide variety of games, each of which were clearly inspired by Valve’s masterpiece but all adding their own little twist to the formula.
It does mean that it’s easy for some titles to feel a little too familiar to stand out in the crowd, but Pillow Castle Games’ Superliminal caught my attention from the moment I first saw it thanks to its clever use of perspective. After missing out on it during its initial release on PC last year, I finally got the chance to play through the game on the Nintendo Switch – it has really left a lasting impression on me too, with its clever puzzling mechanics and overlying positive message coming together to make for a unique and brilliant experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Superliminal sees players undertaking dream therapy within the Pierce Institute, a special facility run by the enigmatic Doctor Glenn Pierce that specialises in the different layers of dreams in a person’s mind. Unfortunately, you find yourself trapped within your own dreams, so you have to attempt to follow both the Doctor and a female narrator’s instructions as you look to find your way back to reality. This sends you on an escapade that takes many fantastical twists-and-turns where both your perception and perspective are put to the test.
All sounds a bit confusing, right? Well, it certainly can be, but there’s also an underlying message of positivity to found that just left me feeling really good about myself post-completion. It weaves plenty of elements of humour and silliness into its tale too, with a feel-good and happy vibe to be found throughout the game for the most part.
Superliminal’s puzzling is particularly clever thanks to its use of perspective in not only manipulating the environment around you but the objects that you can handle. Now this might be pretty difficult to describe in words, so bear with me here: any object you pick up can be manipulated in size and position based on the perspective in which you’re looking at it. Following? Yeah, I thought not.
Basically, if you hold a block in one perspective, it’ll appear small. Drop it and it’ll then replicate that size. However, if you hold it at another perspective, it’ll appear large. Drop it, and again, it’ll replicate that new larger size. Alternatively, if you drop the object at a fixed angle so that it’s appearing on a ledge above you or further away from you in the distance, it’ll then stick to that position instead. It might sound a little complicated here, but believe me, it’s both simple and clever to utilise when playing the game… just look at the trailer a few paragraphs above to see what I mean.
Manipulating objects and the environment makes up the core of most puzzles in Superliminal, though it does introduce plenty of other neat ideas to ensure that the experience remains fresh for players. You’ll come across some objects that get cloned when interacted with, some which will brighten up your path in dark areas, and others which will even modify the player’s size in order to explore smaller areas in the environment just to name a few. Superliminal certainly keeps things varied between chapters, whilst there also a wide variety of crafty ways to manipulate the objects around you as a means of progress. It’s just all very clever and the puzzle design constantly impressed me – even if I did find myself completely stumped on some of them but then kicking myself when I realised just how simple the solution ACTUALLY was.
All of the puzzles are tied together by some solid environmental storytelling and level design, with plenty of different things to see across each of the game’s chapters. Admittedly, the tried-and-tested facility aesthetic does make up the majority of rooms you explore, though some clever elements are introduced along the way to keep you on your toes with both a dollhouse-like setup and a horror-themed level spicing up the experience. That horror chapter was actually one of my favourites, with the dim lights, trails of ‘blood’, and subtle messages that spoke of death genuinely making for some eerie moments. Of course, the game adds its own relaxing and easy-going sense of charm to it by the end, but players may find themselves fooled into thinking that Superliminal had taken a horror game twist for a short while.
What I appreciated the most was how the game’s level design always managed to surprise me, with plenty of fun little twists introduced into exploration that stick to the themes of environment manipulation in a variety of intricate ways. They essentially trick the player at times and send you down pathways that actually feel out of place, so you can expect to fall down a few hidden holes or have to wander through makeshift doors at times. It’s good stuff and ensures that exploring the game world never ever gets boring, even if you do see some of the same old hallways and pipes on a regular basis…
I had a really good time playing through Superliminal and found its puzzle design both ingenious and entertaining, but there were a few occasions where it didn’t hit the mark. Some of the later puzzles were a bit too simple in design and gave the game more of a walking simulator vibe than anything – sure, this is fine, but it did make the closing chapters feel a little underwhelming compared to the tricky conundrum solving you have to go through during the game’s first two hours.
Superliminal is guilty of being on the short side too, with the experience wrapping up in just under three hours (though that could vary depending on how stuck you get on some of the puzzles). Admittedly, there was enough entertainment in those three hours to justify purchasing the game so you won’t feel like you’re not getting enough bang for your buck – you’ll just want more thanks to just how good it is.
I played through Superliminal on the Nintendo Switch and was left pretty impressed by its visuals, with everything looking both smooth and attractive in both the docked and handheld modes. I’ve seen a lot of first-person titles like this look a little fuzzy when playing handheld, but I had no issue here – even when in larger environments that have a vast array of objects in the distance. It’s a good job too, because Superliminal is full of fantastic and often baffling sights that demand visual clarity to appreciate, so Nintendo Switch gamers won’t feel short-changed in that department.
If I did have to make a minor complaint, it’d be that there could be a few framerate stutters here and there. It wasn’t problematic enough to be a gameplay issue and it only normally occurred during the transition between different areas, but it was certainly noticeable during my time playing.
Superliminal offers a puzzling experience that isn’t only unique and ingenious in design, but also a hell of a lot of fun to play. Best of all, it really feels at home on the Nintendo Switch, with the port offering slick visuals that certainly make the game’s weird and wonderful world a sight to behold in the palm of your hands.
A few sketchy puzzles towards the backend of the game do see Superliminal falling slightly short of puzzling perfection, but anyone who appreciates a game full of clever and unique puzzling enigmas will DEFINITELY want to give the game a play.
Developer: Pillow Castle Games
Publisher: Pillow Castle Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC