There’s a lot to like about Focus Home Interactive’s publishing decisions, especially the fact they’re happy to take a chance with something a little more leftfield if there’s a unique element to it. That must by why Shady Part Of Me from Douze Dixièmes caught their eye. A hand drawn puzzle game that has the player taking the role of an insecure little girl and her independent shadow to co-operatively escape a strange dreamscape… it’s intriguing. It’s also a brave move releasing a small scale indie title on the same day as arguably the most hyped open world RPG ever, and kudos for them not wavering in the face of that cybernetically enhanced juggernaut. So it’s certainly got the guts, but has it got the substance to block out a space for itself, or is it just a trick of the light?
You’re a shadow. An intangible thing. You’re the absence of light. The result of something blocking photons from the background. That’s how Shady Part Of Me starts – putting you in control of a shadow that runs and leaps and clambers their way around the screen. You seem to be lost, but words appear to guide you to your goal. Jump over the gaps, climb the fences, drop down the holes, learn how the controls work. Eventually you make it to the end to be reunited with what gives you your form… a little girl. She’s afraid of the light, has been left all alone, and badly needs a friend to help her out. This is the start of the story and the beginning of the adventure as person and shade work together to find a way out, and solve the mystery of what’s going on. Heading from normal locations to surreal environments, the two act as one to remove obstacles from their path and discover more about their personal worries and fears. Will they get out together? Possibly, but only with your brain working overtime.
The setup for Shady Part Of Me is purely around figuring out how to move past the current thing blocking the path by using each characters abilities. One is a corporeal little girl and only able to move in the shadows in the 3D realm; the other is her 2D shadow that can only move along the shapes cast on the wall. Both are able to traverse their respective planes relatively freely as long as they can overcome the obstacles in the way which might be physical objects, shadowy barriers, or plain old light fittings. The shadow can jump and climb, the little girl can drag objects and change the light patterns, and together they create paths for each other to move through. It’s a fantastic concept that creates some impressive puzzles from fairly minimal building blocks, and lets the developer really work on your perceptions of solidity, orientation and negative space. With the only perils being crippled in terror by the light or made null by the dark, there’s a sedate pace and rhythm to the game that allows for consideration and contemplation, as well as reflection on the environments and the clues to what’s going on.
Just because there’s not much in the way of danger, that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. Rather than have you restart sections again though, Shady Part Of Me uses a rewind feature that whips quickly back along the most recently played out action so you can try again. Whilst it’s not strictly part of the puzzle mechanics, the ease of use by being mapped to a single button and triggerable at any time means that it can form part of the gameplay. If tight timing or tricky jumps are needed, it’s a great thing to have on hand to just go back a second or so and try either a different angle or movement. There’s almost a consequence free vibe by including it and that encourages a bit of experimentation with the puzzles. There’s no risk to accidentally popping the shadow or getting the little girl stuck between a couple of shafts of light, so why not give a wild solution a shot? It’s a good job too as some of the setups are deceptively taxing and moving all the elements around is sometimes the only way to generate an idea for moving forward.
When all the elements come together and you “beat” the spatial 2D/3D conundrum, it’s a great feeling. There are no hints available, and you only have what you take into the game with you, so success is earned the hard way. The learning curve is gentle enough that it feels progressive without being taxing, and it doesn’t sharply increase unfairly. New capabilities are introduced steadily and used often enough that they almost become second nature. With sections that split the two characters up as well it provides decent opportunities to get used to how they each play, and what their personalities are like. Each is very well voiced to bring believability and vulnerability, and the infrequent interjection of other voices lend an air of intrigue to the journey. The pacing is such that your brain has time to relax slightly in the movement between sections and you can let the “story” wash over you and almost allow yourself a bit of meditation on what it might mean before the next “gameplay” bit. It’s a really nice way to cement the immediate triumph whilst prepping you for what’s to come. It also means enjoying the lush visuals too.
Shady Part Of Me is a great looking game with its muted colour palette and hand painted style. The blend of the 2D and 3D worlds could have been complicated, but they’ve managed to keep them distinctly separate, and the way they bend around and shape each others worlds is stunning. There’s also a tonne of detail in what on the surface seem like simple landscapes, and even though there’s little interactivity in the furniture, it seems tangible and enticing. Accepting the complete incongruity that some of the four acts showcase, it makes for a lovely romp through familiar yet alien places. With a beautiful soundtrack to back it all up it’s a surprisingly chilled out experience that masks the seriousness of the underlying topic, and that balance is probably what gives it the impact it has. It’s great when a game comes along that looks, sounds and feels like no other you’ve played before.
At around a four hour runtime and the replayability to collect 98 origami and shadow birds, there’s a decent amount on offer for the asking price in Shady Part Of Me. The bird collecting starts of as simply finding them on the screen and morphs into puzzles within puzzles to find out how to snag them. That’s a nice touch and one that makes you hang around a bit longer. It’s not that alone though, there’s a charm in this poignant tale that pulls you in from the opening scenes and keeps you delighted and entertained until the end. A genuine pleasure to play, it won’t leave you alone in the dark.
A PS4 review copy of Shady Part Of Me was provided by Douze Dixièmes PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One now for around £13.