Review: Where Shadows Slumber03 Oct 2018 0
Review: Where Shadows Slumber
Released 10 Sep 2018
Mobile gaming has really enjoyed a resurgence of compact, clever & pretty puzzle games. That desire for a quick break on the subway or the john has merged with clean and modern hipster design and minimalistic storytelling to create a whole new genre of precious mazes you can play with one hand. Like Monument Valley and Square's Go series among others, Where Shadows Slumber tries to give you an experience both artistic and thoughtful, wrapped up in bite-sized chunks.
The game has a conceit almost as clever as Monument Valley's Escher-like pathways, but more indebted to the early iOS hit Helsing’s Fire. In Where Shadows Slumber, you have to make use of light and shadow to transform the world around you. Your character carries a brilliant yellow-green lamp that throws pitch-black shadows. When cast in darkness, portions of the scene will change. Sometimes this only changes something small, like making a door appear out of thin dark. Other times, shadows will reveal a whole other world. As the shadows sweep across the screen, you'll see new possibilities blink in and out of view. Your job is to figure out how to walk between these worlds and make it out alive.
The controls are straightforward and familiar to anyone who has played this type of game before. You can use simple single taps move your hero through single-screen mazes (or double-tap for a run) and drag on various parts of the background (light sources, blocks, platforms, or walls) to open new paths.
Like Monument Valley, a lot of the puzzles come down to figuring out what is possible to change in a given scene. You need to figure out what will shift when shadows pass over each section of the map, and then how you can get a light source into position to throw or remove those shadows. There are 35 stages in seven worlds, each a single screen long. No one stage is particularly brutal, and each will probably take less than ten minutes to puzzle through.
On top of the central twist, Where Shadows Slumber tosses all the usual maze-puzzler tools at you: sliding platforms, floor switches, impassable obstacles, and moving NPCs that can help or hinder. These additions can be nice, since it means each level has something new. At the same time, a lot of these are tossed in without much explanation, assuming you are familiar with them from other puzzle games, and then they are tossed out just as unceremoniously. It gives some variety to the puzzles, but it doesn't give a strong sense of progression. The game never sets any expectations to the puzzle mechanics, so it can't challenge those expectations in more advanced levels. Instead, the game is more about recognizing what the tools you're given can do and how they affect the screen they're on. That’s fun, but it could be more ambitious.
Given the title, one would expect the story to be gloomy, but it is also surprisingly violent; this is not a low-key puzzler you can let the kids fool around with on the iPad. Instead it's host to a silently-told tale of pursuit and lots of seemingly random murder. The hero seems to live in a world where sad bald humans are under the thumb of cruel and capricious animal-headed monsters, which is certainly a game setting I've never experienced before.
Animated cutscenes break up chapters, updating us on the story of Obe and his quest to escape with his magic lantern. The atmosphere is oppressive, twisted and really effective. The music and architecture emphasize the dreariness of the environment. The common people live in run-down wooden villages while the animal overlords inhabit monolithic labyrinths. It's dark, but also imaginative, and the hero ventures through several distinctly different environments to the conclusion.
If you're a fan of the Square Enix Go series of puzzle games and you've finished Monument Valley already, Where Shadows Slumber is a good pick. The puzzles are clever, but not as varied or mind-melting as the Go series. The game's central mechanic is cool, but it isn't quite clever or adaptable enough to push it to instant-classic status like Monument Valley. That said, it would be hard to reach the heights of those games, and as it is, Where Shadows Slumber is an atmospheric and imaginative puzzle game.