Overshadowed By Its Story
HIGH Simple (but effective) animation with a lot of heart.
LOW Toggling between furniture/objects is sluggish.
WTF The inhuman (and vaguely horrifying) faces of the characters.
There was a recent comment here at GameCritics asking why so many reviews were being awarded with 7s and 8s. Our editor, Brad Gallaway, pointed out that as volunteers we generally self-select what we’d like to cover, and as such, will naturally gravitate towards games that we’re interested in.
This made me reflect on my own choices and how I initially chose to write for GameCritics to broaden my gaming horizons. This has happened — to a degree — but I noticed that I was trending towards first-person shooters and narrative adventure games. I felt like my choices were getting too predictable, so I picked a puzzle game instead. However, in reality this was a ridiculous choice as I get incredibly frustrated with puzzlers and lack the patience I used to have. So here we are.
In My Shadow is a puzzle/platformer. The player character is a young woman called Bella who’s looking back at her memories and seeking some answers. The game takes place in different rooms of her family home, each with a particular theme/relationship and a set of puzzle/platform sections to complete. The player controls a 2D silhouette of Bella starting on the left side of each room, and she must try to make it to the other side by jumping, avoiding obstacles, and collecting pages of a book along the way.
For me, puzzlers live and die by their central mechanic, and In My Shadow has a novel one. Rather than being a standard platformer, the silhouette comes into play as the player must switch and rearrange various objects/furniture in each room. There’s a light source at one side, so these objects create shadows that create platforms and surfaces Bella can use to progress her silhouette through various challenges.
For example, players can increase the size of an object by moving it closer to the source of the light, or can sometimes spin them around to cast a differently-shaped shadow. In My Shadow typically starts simply but quickly becomes more complex as the player progresses by adding multiple light sources or objects that collapse after the player lands on them.
While this is a novel concept, I became quickly exasperated. I appreciated that it felt like there was more than one solution to each section, but my patience wore thin partly due to how exact the shadow adjustments have to be, and also due to how sluggish switching between Bella and cycling through the various objects feels — a problem I often come across in console ports of puzzlers where mouse controls would clearly be more intuitive.
To be fair, as I age I have less time for gaming and work a stressful job. This means that unless I’m playing something exceptional, I resent sessions where I don’t make tangible progress. When I hit roadblocks, I feel frustrated and sense my precious free time slipping away. Ironically, my engagement with the story of In My Shadow only contributed to this frustration as I wanted to rush through the gameplay segments to get to the story parts. The developers have helpfully included the option to skip puzzles, but as a reviewer I felt duty bound to ignore this option.
While the gameplay wasn’t a home run for me, In My Shadow tells an emotional story that I resonated with. Through Bella, the player looks back on her memories and how certain choices affected her relationships. There is a great pang of regret around it all, and it made me reflect on my own relationships and regrets.
The tale comes via short cutscenes featuring an art style that is simple (but often horrifying) with crudely-rendered human faces appearing alien. However, the dialogue is well-written and simple animations (such Bella bowing her head when she reaches her dog) are moments that go straight to the heart and express things that I think everyone can connect with.
This all leaves me in a tricky position with In My Shadow and I almost considered covering it as a This Is Not A Review, partly due to my current relationship with videogames in general. Overall I think it’s fine for a puzzler. However, I resonated with In My Shadow on an emotional level and walked away feeling like I got something out of it despite my frustrations with the gameplay.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Playbae and published by Playbae, Alcon Interactive Group and OverGamez and is currently available on PS4/5, PC, XBO/X/S, and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on PS4. 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 E and contains Fantasy Violence. There is no official description provided by the ESRB but I feel that this is safe for kids. There are mature themes around regret that may not resonate for children and mild depictions of violence (such as Bella landing on cartoonish spikes) but these things do not feel excessive or brutal.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. (See example above.) In My Shadows does not use audio cues and playing with no sound didn’t change my experience. It is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable.