Falling for Iris
Brevity, as they say, is the soul of wit. It’s a sign of eloquence to be able to say more with fewer words. Iris.Fall takes this maxim to the extreme by telling a completely wordless story about a girl living in an orphanage awoken in her dorm one night to be led to a mysterious mansion, where she unravels some secrets from her past and solves some puzzles along the way. What’s particularly unique about Iris.Fall as a puzzler is its central quirk revolves around the protagonist’s ability to morph into her shadow and then reconstitute her corporeal form elsewhere.
Visually, Iris.Fall is a stunning achievement. The world is presented as a gorgeous monochromatic living diorama. You could summarize the aesthetic of Iris.Fall as “living art”. Marionettes jerkily make their way around the darkened halls, shadow puppets dance on the walls and paintings come to life. Some chapters are reminiscent of an MC Escher painting with their perplexing use of 3 dimensions and endless staircases leading off in every direction. Walls and structures look like they’re constructed from delicately folded paper, and the whole thing just looks bloomin’ great!
The puzzles are, for the most part, positively perfect. Early on, I was worried the puzzles might be a little too much on the easy side. Transposing the protagonist into her shadow form and walking across shadows to pick up various items seemed straightforward enough. But this was merely gently easing me in to a much more rich and varied selection of head scratching conundrums. One chapter tasked me with re-arranging a giant floating rubik’s cube, where certain blocks cast out beams of light in different directions, with the object to unlock darkened doors by illuminating them.
Just as you’re starting to get used to a certain methodology, Iris.Fall throws some entirely new challenges at you, which test your lateral thinking in completely new ways. One moment, I was carefully twisting dials to position stone disks over the right glowing abscesses and the next I was collecting objects to create a shadow puppet theatre projected onto the wall. The way light and shadow is used in puzzles is brilliant. Often a puzzle might seem as simple as placing an object to cast a shadow in such a way as the protagonist’s alter-ego can cross them, but then you’ll find things simply don’t align as you’d like. Then there will be a satisfying “a-ha!” moment where you’ll realize that you have to change the position of the light itself, placing it further away to cast a longer shadow and closer to cast a shorter one.
One puzzle made me feel like a total idiot at first because I was moving a light source around a spindle seemingly at random and making no progress. Then I slowly realized I had to create longer and shorter spindles of shadow like the hands on a clock, rotating them around to connect points of light. The puzzles never feel frustrating in a “how the hell was I supposed to know to do that?” kind of way. The solution is always visually right in front of you if you look hard enough. And it feels very natural how you come to each solution, as if you’re actually in a bizarre magical mansion desperately searching the arcane scenery for clues, rather than a player trying to work out a game designer’s arcane mind.
Who is the Real Puppet?
As far as I could gather, the story involves the protagonist girl’s relationship with a strange old lady who lives in the diorama mansion. It’s quite impressive how invested I managed to become in the wordless story. There are hints about the shocking true nature of the mansion given in little quirks of the gampelay, such as how the protagonist’s shadow seems subtly independent of her. There are little patches of story told quite cleverly through the puzzles themselves. One challenge tasks you with rearranging picture blocks to make a cohesive scene. Through this, there’s little hints about the antagonist’s past and foreshadowing about the ending.
It all leads up to a surprisingly stark conclusion that left me surprised and a little baffled. Of course, I’m sure that’s precisely the intended effect as interpreting the ending proved to be just as much of a fascinating puzzle as any of the more logic-based problems on offer. It only took me a few short hours to finish Iris.Fall, but I much preferred the short, impactful satisfying experience to games that stretch themselves far too thin.
Short and Sweet
Iris.Fall is a brief but beautiful adventure. Though it’s over in a proverbial flash, it’s well worth playing for the clever, original puzzles and the spellbinding art style. No puzzle outlived its welcome, and I was constantly tested by new challenges, but never quite so much I felt frustrated. I’m not generally someone who enjoys the artsy-fartsy black-and-white style, but Iris.Fall nonetheless won me over with its monochromatic pop out aesthetic, playing me like a proverbial marionette all the way through its monochromatic pop out book world.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: NEXT Studios ; Developer: NEXT Studios ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 7th, 2018
Full disclosure: This review is based on review code given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.