Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO, PS3, PS Vita TBA
Developer Ludo Land
Publisher Serenity Forge
Release Date August 30, 2016 (PC, remainder TBA)

Disclaimer: Review code provided

Four Sided Fantasy is a puzzle game developed by Ludo Land. A spiritual successor to The Fourth Wall, this game utilises screen wrap mechanics to put its main characters through a series of platform-based conundrums. Beautifully rendered environments, smooth mechanics and intelligent design all come together wonderfully in this long-anticipated (by us, anyway) gem.

The focus of Four Sided Fantasy is the aforementioned screen-wrap mechanic. While we’ve seen this in games leading all the way back to Pac-Man, this time you have the ability to toggle it on and off – I can’t quite describe this, however the following .gif should get this across:

This allows Ludo Land to design some quite ingenious puzzles for you to navigate. Best played with a controller, the right trigger locks the screen to allow you to fully traverse the environments in ways that I haven’t personally found as purely entertaining and invigorating to solve since the Portal series. As you lock the screen, there’s a nice VCR/CCTV style lock screen, implied to be a shot from the various cameras you encounter along your way. There’s no plot as such, although you control a male and female character, switching between the two every time you launch through a side of the screen. The danger comes in the form of blocks of static, visual white noise which will disintegrate you on impact. Politely and non-violently, I might add.

The level design is superb from the actual puzzles right down to the aesthetics. There are various types of scenery you’ll travel through, from the summer glades to wintered towns that look almost like they’re straight from a hallmark card, with some striking auroras and geometric constellation art all drawing the eye throughout the game.

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Even the character models and how they’re animated is done beautifully. Along with the seamless level transition, you’re fully immersed in the game no matter how many times you get stuck. It’s challenging enough to allow you to find yourself stuck on a particular segment, however none frustrating enough to make me want to stop playing. As with any really good puzzle game, the satisfaction comes from getting past these parts successfully, and again, as with any great puzzle games, it’s extremely rewarding to do so here.

Four Sided Fantasy doesn’t just leave it there, though. Each time you progress to a new environment, the mechanics change completely. In the first area, you’re to utilise the basic screen lock/jump through the other side at the right time game plan, this gets shaken up and added to with every turn. Without spoiling too much, there’s one area in which gravity is inverted when you cross screens; there’s another area which splits the screen across the middle which really took me by surprise. There are even instances where you may end up bumping into multiple versions of yourself. Each time you are forced to change your mindset entirely, and some of the initial confusion and bewilderment when this sudden change hits makes for some great “holy shit!” moments, and some real mental gymnastics become necessary.

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Bearing in mind I’m playing a pre-release version of the game, I only encountered one bug – unfortunately a game-breaking one. At various points of the game, you’ll have to collect colour-coded keys in the form of old-school battery indicators (befitting the camcorder-esque vibe throughout). These allow passage through corresponding sections of colour which block and cancel out your screen lock – a simple way to add a different kind of puzzle element, however at one point something glitched out, re-clicked and left me after the point where I collected the key but without the game recognising me as having done so. This was easily solved by restarting the game and section, but aside from this and some control mapping issues when I started the game up, 4SF performed flawlessly (or floorlessly… I’m sorry. But not really).

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The game itself isn’t massively long, however it certainly doesn’t feel too short. Although the ending was slightly abrupt, it leads to an even more visually impressive crescendo. You’re free to explore the game further with a New Game + mode, adding the trickiest screen-lock format to the beginning of the game. This feels pretty good, turning the simplest puzzles into the most complex. I couldn’t quite get my brain to process this at first, but I will definitely be jumping back in to tackle this at a later date. I’ve waited for this game to drop since I first came across it (and subsequently commandeered the booth) at EGX, and 4SF doesn’t disappoint.

Summary

All in all, I’m hugely satisfied with my experiences in Four Sided Fantasy. Clocking in at two hours run-time, with added NG+ content, it feels just long enough. The ambient music and beautiful landscapes juxtaposed with the harsh static no-go areas create an environment that’s a pleasure to spend time in. With some very interesting perspective shifts, it never feels like your standard side-scroller. Given an almost unprecedented depth for a 2D-ish game and the spot on puzzle design, Four Sided Fantasy is everything that was promised – a rarity in this day and age, but a welcome one. 


8
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