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July 2022

In My Shadow

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Alcon Entertainment
Developer: Playbae
Release Date: April 8, 2021


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PC Review - 'In My Shadow'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 19, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

In My Shadow is a manipulating puzzle-platformer that takes you on a journey through the mind of Bella in pursuit of reconciliation with her past.

It's common to add a narrative to a puzzle-platformer. If you have a story to tell and don't want to go with the straightforward path of making it a walking simulator, the platformer is the next best thing. Perfecting the platforming is one thing, but emphasizing the story means that it has to be just as compelling. While In My Shadow is OK with the former, it drops the ball on the latter.

The game has you playing the role of Bella, a young woman working away on her computer when she gets a text from her parents. Based on what you're seeing, she seems to be estranged from them, and the last text has her thinking about what happened in her past to get her to this point. To that end, your mind returns to your childhood home to experience those memories once more.

Told entirely through text and still in-game images, the story starts off strong with Bella talking about the day she got Fisker and all of the fun she had with him until his death. The sadness and the questioning of whether she spent enough time with the dog is very relatable to anyone who's ever had a pet. Unfortunately, the rest of the story falls apart as you jump back and forth between times in Bella's childhood to focus on her relationship with her parents and brother. The cut scenes show her getting mad at everyone in her family, but it never explains why seemingly normal disagreements blow up into something bigger. There's an air of inflated melodrama that almost makes the drama seem laughable, since it's something that almost everyone goes through. The disagreements and Bella's self-inflicted regret ends, but nothing of significance happens. You can interpret it as her patching things up with her family, but there's no satisfaction at seeing this happen, since you aren't privy to the important details. By the time you return to the game's main menu after wrapping up the game, the experience feels empty, which is the worst feeling for any narrative.

To bridge together the pieces of the story together, you have to play as Bella's shadow. The goal in each one-screen room is to reach the end of the level to meet your family member, while collecting all of the pages scattered throughout the room. The platforming section is one part of the level, while the other part has you rearranging the pieces in the room to create the necessary shadow platforms to accomplish your task. There are no enemies, but you have obstacles in the form of spikes and saw blades that can kill with a single touch.

You have infinite lives, so failure via experimentation is highly encouraged. Initially, the puzzle elements are relegated to one wall where you can move objects in all four cardinal directions. It doesn't take long before the game gives you the power to rotate objects to create even more platform variety. From there, the game introduces trickier scenarios, such as the introduction of fragile shadows that collapse shortly after being touched, balls that can aid in your leaps or mess with your trajectory, portals, and the use of a second wall to add more critical thinking to object placement.

For a game with a focus on narrative, the inclusion of sharp obstacles seems out of place, since the story doesn't delve into violent territory. Their presence immediately indicates that this is more of a precision platformer, and that is true when you discover that making those daring leaps is dependent on you being able to hit the edges of platforms just right to make it over the bed of spikes or skirt the edge of a saw blade.

For platforming fans, this is diabolical stuff that would be a good test of reflexes and the ability to place obstacles so the route is perfect, since going back and forth between platforming and shadow placement results in the pages being reset and Bella being placed at the starting position. Unfortunately, In My Shadow commits the sin of providing bad jump mechanics. Bella's jumps have a floaty feel to them, so it feels like you have no idea where you'll land. On top of that, you can't control the height of the jump, so even if you have perfect shadow placement, there's a good chance that you'll hit your head on spikes. In a move that seems to acknowledge that the platforming mechanics are imperfect, the game lets you skip a level, so you can move to the next puzzle. The skips are infinite and have no penalty, so players can easily miss all of the puzzles in the entire game and see all of the cut scenes without feeling like they missed anything.

The presentation is good to a point. The overall look of the characters feels rudimentary, like what you'd see in a low-budget CG cartoon thanks to the large heads and lack of visible emotions on their faces. The environments, however, are done well enough for being simple home backdrops, while the game moves at a very smooth frame rate from beginning to end. The sound effects and voices are all absent, so it falls on the music to carry the audio side. To that end, it feels very heavy-handed, as it is composed of melancholy tunes no matter the situation. You know that the story is about regret, but the soundtrack makes you more apathetic to the narrative, since it maintains a sad feeling throughout.

In the end, In My Shadow just isn't very compelling. The lack of control when jumping is a bad combination for both the finicky object placement mechanics and the precision needed to make those important leaps. Meanwhile, the story lacks focus, which makes the ending even more unsatisfying. The game may be fine for those looking for a platforming challenge, but everyone else won't miss much by skipping this one.

Score: 6.0/10

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