A Matter Of Perspective
HIGH The unexpected survival-horror segment.
LOW Getting stuck in the environment multiple times.
WTF Why stick to the Portal playbook so closely?
After playing videogames for the better part of 25 years, it’s hard to find something that feels fresh. Trends come and go and new genres appear, but I’m rarely swept away by something that is an iteration of something I already know. However, I’m happy to say that Superliminal, Pillow Castle’s debut title, is a fresh new thing for me.
Superliminal is a first-person narrative puzzler that leads players to believe they’re proceeding through lucid dream exercises in a sleep therapy lab for a multitude of reasons – most notably for anxiety and stress control. However, things go sideways when the player gets trapped in a cycle of dreams and must navigate them to come back to reality.
Superliminal’s puzzles are based around forced perspectives and optical illusions, and many challenges require the player to pick up an item and change its size by moving it around relative to the character. This feels impossible to effectively convey in text, but trust me — once a player sees it, it immediately makes sense.
For example, if a small chess piece sits on a table, I could get very close to it before picking it up (to make it look big) and when I drop it, suddenly the piece would be much larger. Alternatively, if I walked to the other side of the room to make the chess piece look smaller based on my spatial relation to it, I could pick it up (no matter from how far away) and it would be that small in my hands.
Other puzzles involve items that clone when they’re picked up and have to be used in creative ways, while some required me to move and reshape objects to climb and reach new areas.
I knew about these mechanics beforehand and feared that they might be too smart for me, or that I’d get stuck often. To my relief, I only had to consult a walkthrough once! While other titles might have relied upon these mechanics as gimmicks, Superliminal uses its forced perspective tricks in ways that only get more interesting as the game proceeds.
However, it’s inevitable that a ‘scientific test-chamber’ game like this would be compared to Valve’s seminal Portal, and it feels like Pillow Castle are a little too close to that playbook. The general room-by-room structure is similar, and sometimes Superliminal would give the impression that I was breaking the fourth wall of its world in the way Portal did. Perhaps most notably, Superliminal features voiceovers to guide players and provide context for the adventure. I raised an eyebrow when one of the two voices was robotic and feminine. The intent here may have been homage, but it draws too much inspiration and takes it a little too far.
While I can forgive the Portal flavor since that release is more than a decade behind us (and hey, if one is going to steal, steal from the best!) but what I can’t forgive are sections that feel like they barely hold together in terms of how they’re constructed in-engine. Due to Superliminal’s reality-bending nature I expected some hiccups, but I didn’t expect to get stuck in the environment multiple times, requiring a manual reset for every one. It also completely froze on me in a handful of instances.
However, complaints aside Superliminal just feels magical to play. I can’t count the times my eyes widened and I let out an “Aaahhhh!” upon discovering some unexpected twist in the ever-expanding creative environments. It also got in my head, causing me to question what was real and what’s not.
Superliminal truly feels like a whimsical dream – it might base itself in mundane reality at first, but it doesn’t take long before that goes out the window and fantastic elements start to flourish, and I already wish I could experience it again for the first time.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Pillow Castle. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed twice. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Blood. I find Superliminal to be suitable for everyone The mild blood referenced is during a small survival-horror section, but there is no violence or gore related to it. There are some puddles of cartoonish red liquid on the floor in a few spots and a red handprint on a door. I don’t find these instances too scary for any age.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Superliminal features subtitles for all spoken dialogue in the game. The subtitles cannot be resized. Story mostly takes a backseat to visual elements. I don’t find that this game would be more difficult for Deaf players as there are no vital audio cues and much of Superliminal is about looking around and exploring the environments.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. there is no control diagram. Look sensitivity can be adjusted on PS4 and the Y-Axis can be set to standard or inverted. The game has no controller map screen, but the controls are rather simplistic. The twin joysticks move the player much like any first-person game. The X button jumps and a face button and/or shoulder button can be used to pick up and put down objects. A photo of the control options is below.