First person puzzle platformers aren’t a genre of video games that is widely discussed. At least not that I hear. That doesn’t mean that they are not on the market but, to me, they seem to be few and far between. I’ve noticed that every first person puzzle platformer tends to have a theme since Portal came out. In Superliminal’s case, perception is reality, and the reality is this is a solid puzzle game.
This game has 8 stages with mind-bending puzzles that really challenge you to think outside the box. Superliminal was developed and published by Pillow Castle Games for multiple platforms and PC. I don’t think there is any difference between platforms, but for this review, I’ll be focusing on the PS4 version.
Oh man, I’m not entirely sure where to start with this one. Your character is lying in bed at 3 in the morning, watching TV while trying to fall asleep. The last commercial to pop up before finally dozing off is for Dr. Pierce’s dream therapy. You finally doze off and wake up in SomnaSculpt. After signing the Terms of Service, you’re off running. Literally, you’re allowed to walk around and explore the area.
Once you progress a bit, you find an area where you can pick up chess pieces. This is where you can get familiar with the main gameplay mechanic, making items larger or smaller depending on where you move. Or, to frame it better, you make the items larger or smaller depending on your perspective. After that, you’re allowed to go through the rest of the test rooms and proceed to the exit where you progress to the next phase of the study and dive deeper into the mind-bending nature of Superliminal.
Once you progress to the next few levels, it’s announced that your dream is becoming unstable and that Dr. Pierce is unable to find you. You have to keep going deeper into your dream (getting Inception vibes here) until you can regain control of your dreams and overcome the obstacles that you face. To say anything more would probably spoil the game for anyone that hasn’t played it so let’s move on to the gameplay.
As I mentioned above, this game falls within the first person puzzle platformer category. You’re able to walk, jump, and pick up items to help solve puzzles. The way you solve puzzles in this game revolves around the way the player perceives the things around them. As it says throughout the game, perception is reality.
For instance, you need to find a block to use in order to reach a higher platform, but there isn’t one in sight. Then you notice that there’s a painting of a block on a wall. Once you line everything up in the right way a block magically pops out. Now you can use the block to reach the higher place. If the block isn’t big enough to reach the next platform, no problem, you can just make it bigger. In addition to these kinds of puzzles, the player is also faced with objects that multiply, walls/holes that appear out of nowhere, and dark rooms that the player has to figure out how to illuminate.
The player can explore areas that are off the beaten path. It typically doesn’t lead to anything groundbreaking, but it can lead you to the random achievement or random bit of dialogue from the Test Administrator. Typically, you get yelled at for leaving the test area, but it’s fun to find things like this because it’s almost like you’re finding hidden Easter Eggs.
There are also ghetto blasters (a.k.a. boomboxes… felt the need to use the term ghetto blasters for the ghetto gaming community) littered around the various rooms. They feature dialogue from Dr. Pierce and it attempts to explain what the player is going through. They aren’t required to get through the game but they do provide a bit of extra exposition for the player.
The player is greeted by a feminine voice over the speaker as he or she attempts to progress through the orientation. The first thing that immediately ran through my head is, “This sounds like Portal.” You’re a person who is about to go through a sleep study (similar enough to an experiment), there is a feminine disembodied voice that is trying to guide you through the study, there are pressure pads that the player has to actuate in order to progress through doors, and you take elevators in order to reach the next level of the study. It’s a fun connection to make, but I’m not sure if it was intended to invoke thoughts of Portal (probably not).
That being said, this game is a very different experience from Portal. Given that the entire game takes place in a dream, a fact that is brought up by not-GLaDOS after you accept the terms of service, you know you’re in for a world of endless possibilities. There are a lot of areas that seem like a dead end that the player needs to think outside the box in order to solve. Need to reach a door that is high up on a wall but you’re not sure how to get there? Look for a random object that you can grow/multiply in order to reach it. Need to find your way through a dark area? Grab a nearby exit sign and enlarge it to light up the area. Can’t figure out how to progress to the next area? Take a look at your surrounding from different perspectives, there might be an object you can create or remove to move forward.
There’s also a stage that features a horror-like section. It was completely unexpected, but I loved every minute of it. It’s like the dream is slowly becoming more of a nightmare and it built a good amount of tension when I played through it. The later stages get more and more abstract as the player progresses, symbolizing the unstable state that the character’s dream is in.
The game is relatively short and can be beaten within 1 hour (in fact, doing so nets an achievement. You can even get a second achievement for beating it in under 30 minutes). The challenge solely lies within the puzzles that your character must face and, to be honest, I didn’t think that the puzzles were necessarily all that challenging. There are a few exceptions where the puzzles are more on the challenging side (for example: the moon or the bounce house) and there are a few areas that are confusing, but there are hints scattered around to help you out so I never really ever felt stuck in one area.
The music in this game is very minimal. It’s there in certain sections, but most areas don’t feature music at all. You’re just listening to your character walk from Point A to Point B. The music, in the sections that have it, is nice and fits the overall mood of the game. It isn’t overbearing nor does it drown out any of the dialogue.
All-in-all, the game was very fun. Like I said, the puzzles were challenging in some areas, but they were mostly pretty easy to figure out. That doesn’t mean that the puzzles were bad, they just felt a little samey after a while. The visuals were nice and got even better as the game progressed. Most of the levels are set up like mazes, but most areas just lead to dead ends so the game feels fairly linear. I like first person games because it feels like the player, i.e. me, is exploring a new world. When most of the areas are blocked by doors, or areas that shift in shape and size, the exploration aspect feels limited.
The name, Superliminal, makes me think of an old Simpsons joke. I even made a meme about it!
The game plays with the player’s expectations and I really like it. There’s a part where you have to grab the moon out of the sky because it has the door that you need to go through in order to move on to the next level. Who would think to even do that? It’s great. You’re also treated to a very uplifting ending that commends you for thinking outside the box while facing the different challenges.
I give Superliminal 3 different size chess pieces out of 5.