Superliminal is a game that I’ve seen pop up in its development process for a long time. Early versions from several years ago looked as trippy as the release, but of course, they functioned more as a tech demo than an actual game. Building a game around a cool mechanic can be a daunting task and I’ve seen it fall apart more than once.
Luckily, it seems like the developer, Pillow Castle, managed to turn this game into a wild and somewhat existential journey through your dreams. One that may put it on par with other great first-person puzzle games.
The Stanley Portal
The setting for Superliminal and the nature of crazy events that occur are evocative of The Stanley Parable. While it doesn’t have the now iconic narration element, it does have quite a bit of comedic voice-over that happens throughout.
Moving through office complexes and quickly transitioning to strange hotel lobbies or back rooms/alleys also gives it that “Stanley Parable” feel. However, I think if you’re looking past just the raw aesthetic, the games are dramatically different.
This is where the Portal comparison comes in. The original Portal had plenty of strange “testing facility” areas and quite a few off-the-grid zones as well. Yet what reminded me most of that classic puzzle game, aside from the puzzles, is the omnipresent monotone AI-like voice.
This voice, as you proceed, isn’t guiding you or anything. It mostly gives you vague direction and reassurance that, even though things are not going well, you can probably make it through it. It had the same dismissive quality of GlaDOS, though with a bit less personality to flesh out.
Puzzles by Perspective
The whole allure of Superliminal is that you’re going to be manipulating objects by changing your perspective of them. That means that objects you interact with will change size relative to how they look from your first-person view. If you handle a large object far away, you see it as small and thus it is tangibly small.
If you’re close to a small object that you’re handling, it will appear much larger. It sort of sounds like a one-trick pony, but the execution in-game along with a variety of other perspective-based puzzles keeps things fresh throughout.
In some parts, you may have to manipulate the size of the doorways to fit through them, but in other scenarios, you’ll need to change your shape within the entire environment to fit through a static doorway. Some objects may only be accessible if you view them from a certain perspective – sort of like the Riddler clues in the Arkham games. Nearly every puzzle you solve in the game to move forward is based on your viewing and sometimes moving objects from a specific viewpoint.
I found this immensely enjoyable from the start. The first time I picked up a normal-sized exit sign and moved it around in the air to let go and have it become 30 feet long, the intuitive nature of the action was endlessly amusing. The intuitiveness of Superliminal doesn’t make it easy though, there were some puzzles that had me scratching my head at times. Toward the end of the game, even a few areas seemed to lose grip on the premise.
The Scavenger Hunt
One of the least appealing things to me in any video game is when I’m scouring an area looking for some kind of item or solution. It’s why I’ve never been a fan of point and click games. Superliminal had a few of these moments where the solution to a puzzle was no longer about getting the right perspective.
Instead, your task was finding the one tiny object you were able to manipulate. These quickly became frustrating, as I’d just be pacing around a room hoping to see the cursor change.
There were even parts of the game where you either weren’t manipulating any object or doing so in a way that had never been introduced before. You would just have to find some path that wasn’t readily apparent.
Sometimes, these were still intuitive enough for me to figure out, but others I’d just be spinning around without a clue. For instance, one especially dark area required you to stumble onto a secret path to move forward in the darkness. It seemed especially out of place, as that gameplay design didn’t happen before or after that section.
Maintaining a Positive Point of View
Superliminal, even with its handful of clunky moments, was still a ton of fun. It reminded me of the first Portal in how it had some rough edges, especially when compared to Portal 2, but the mechanics were sound. The narrative crafted to justify this strange scenario also ends up being far more fulfilling than I thought it would be initially.
Without trying to spoil anything, it edges on the existential and self-affirming, which surprised me for such an otherwise strange little game.
The length of the game may be an issue for some – since I finished Superliminal under three hours and I could easily see it done in two. That’s roughly the length of the original Portal, so I don’t think it’s outlandish for a developer’s first release. It is a little strange that there aren’t any collectibles (that I noticed) or any reason to explore or revisit some areas.
However, it’s hard not to appreciate Superliminal for what it is, a unique first-person puzzle game that managed to take a relatively small new mechanic and build a whole game from it. It’s well worth checking out, but with its short duration, you may want to find a small discount.
What did you think about our Superliminal review? Are you going to play the game? What are your thoughts on games like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Are you in the mood for something different? Perhaps you could be interested in reading our Frozen II review.
Superliminal is a first person puzzle game where your only tool is your perspective. While it seems limited, the game stays fresh across its short duration, even as it sometimes strays from the premise. For the developer's first title, it is reminiscent of Portal in in both its innovation and need for more of this great content.
- Unique puzzle solving mechanics
- Entertaining voiced narrative and story
- Fun puzzle designs within the environment
- Overall pretty short
- Some strange puzzle parts that don't fit the rest