HIGH Stellar artwork. A masterful sense of restraint in scope.
LOW Why can I only text three people a day?
WTF How is there no hentai of these characters?
I love coming across a game that I know nothing about, giving it a chance, and then finding out that it’s delightful. I live for discoveries like this, and The World Next Door is exactly the sort of thing that makes trudging through ten terrible games before finding a winner worth it.
The World Next Door is a Kickstarted project with origins in a game jam. The premise is that there are two dimensions side by side – scientific Earth, and magical Emrys. Every once in a great while, a portal between them opens and citizens from either side can visit the other. Teenaged Earth girl Jun takes the trip but gets stuck in the magic realm when the portal closes, so she and her Emryn friends have to find a way to get her back home.
The experience is split into two chunks. The first is vaguely Visual Novel-ish, with Jun and her group of half-human pals engaging in frequent conversation that feels natural and conveys their personalities well. Their portraits are drawn in an arrestingly-beautiful style that I can only describe as ‘perfect’ and the cast has good energy.
The second chunk of TWND is dungeon combat, but with a twist. Instead of button mashing or turn-based fights, the floor in each room is divided into a grid, and each grid square has a symbol. Jun can rearrange these symbols one at a time, and when at least three (or more) are touching, she can ‘activate’ them to cast a spell – a fireball, a heal, an electric forcefield, and more.
I found this combat-that’s-not-really-combat to be refreshing, and I’m not sure I’ve ever played anything quite like it. It has a quick pace and a fair amount of tension since enemies roam the floor while Jun’s matching, so it’s a bit like solving puzzles under pressure — she’s got to match and activate while dodging as best she can. In a smart move, the devs give the option to toggle invincibility on or off, so players who are just here for the story will be able to breeze through if desired.
So the art style and characters are strongly appealing and the gameplay is novel – this is already enough to recommend The World Next Door, but it also impresses in terms of economy and scope.
The overworld is small, but there’s no need for it to be bigger. The cast isn’t huge, but it helps the player get to know them better. The combat doesn’t have skill trees or upgrades, but it’s entertaining enough without them. The team could have easily fallen prey to scope creep and stumbled, but they kept it tight, played to their strengths, and delivered a package that feels polished in all aspects.
The ending is too abrupt and I would have loved to spend more time with the cast, but I’d much rather a game leave me wanting more instead of dragging on and wearing me out hours before credits roll. The World Next Door is a compact little gem that introduces a style and concepts I’d love to see more of. This feels like just the start of something bigger, and I hope the developers get the chance to keep building on their world.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Rose City Games and published by Viz. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately four hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence and Language. Although the game is clearly aimed at teen audiences and above, there’s nothing here to be worried about. The violence isn’t graphic or gory in the least (it’s mostly tame monsters getting whooshed by fireballs), there’s no sex, and I can’t even recall any salty language despite the ESRB warning.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game with the sound muted and had no issues. Dialogue comes via text and there are no audio cues needed for play. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.