A Dark And Haunting Puzzle-Platformer
HIGH A well-executed mirror mechanism.
LOW The final boss is a lesson in patience.
WTF Certain disturbing story flashbacks.
Ugly is a recently-released 2D puzzle-platformer billed as a dark fairytale, and it does a good job of living up to that description – it offers interesting challenges, plenty of platform jumping, and a story that would be right at home alongside the gruesome, medieval fairytales that eventually became safely sanitized. And on that note, don’t expect the “happily ever after” that has become the norm for these defanged stories.
In Ugly, players are tasked with exploring a deteriorating mansion. The main goal is finding keys to advance to other areas, but often rooms are blocked by caved-in walls, broken ladders, or boarded-up cellars. This is where Ugly’s unique gameplay mechanism comes in.
Using a mysterious mirror fragment, the main character (a nameless nobleman) can create a shadowy doppelganger. This ghostly clone performs the same movements as the hero, just mirrored. The difference is that as a spirit, the clone can pass through walls and remain elevated without a physical floor or ladder beneath it. Then, with a simple button press, players can swap the two characters, allowing the fleshy version to grab keys, enter doorways, and perform other actions that only the physical form can do.
This mirror mechanism is solidly implemented, but the high point is the dark, slightly disturbing story.
Ugly follows the story of the noble trying to deal with past traumas. Story cutscenes are unlocked using the mirror ability – find crude crayon drawings on various walls, line up the character and his shadow doppelganger, and a flashback appears.
Without spoilers, the main character appears to have suffered emotional abuse from a parental figure. The story can be horrific at times, but it’s never overly graphic or pandering for shock value. A slight turn in the final chapter was a little underwhelming, but overall Ugly has one of the darkest, but well-told and powerful stories I’ve experienced recently.
While I was satisfied with both the gameplay and narrative, Ugly‘s boss battles feel slightly out of place. Bosses rely on precise platforming and dodging, which is at odds with the rest of the title’s leisurely pace, and the final boss, especially, is a test of patience that almost made me quit in frustration.
There was also a noticeable technical issue in Ugly, albeit one that didn’t affect the actual gameplay. Playing on Steam, I would see numerous achievements pop-up onscreen. However, none of these saved as completed in my Steam profile. A quick search reveals that others have experienced a similar bug. It’s not a gamebreaker, but something to be aware of.
Overall, Ugly is a fantastic experience. It has excellent platforming and many challenging puzzles, and is highlighted by an excellent (yet slightly disturbing) story. The out-of-place boss battles and that minor technical issue prevent it from being top-tier, but Ugly still comes highly recommended for fans of puzzle platformers who don’t mind them on the dark side.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Team Ugly and published by Graffiti Games. It is currently available on XBO, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 6 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 M and contains Mild Violence, Use of Alcohol, Sexual Content, Partial Nudity. No official ESRB description is available, but the content warnings are quite accurate. Physical violence is quite minimal, but there is plenty of emotional abuse presented during numerous cutscenes. Alcohol is used to “reset” a puzzle room and the player passes out after chugging a bottle. The partial nudity may have been more obvious in some of the story cutscenes I didn’t unlock, but I don’t recall any obvious nudity. However, sexual content was present in multiple cutscenes, often implying nonconsensual acts involving adults. Ugly is not for the younger gamers and parents should use caution with young teens as well.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not offer subtitles. However, all cutscenes are solely visual, told without dialogue. There were no noticeable sound cues for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. Both keyboard and controller support are included in the PC version.