Shady Part of Me Review
A hybrid adventure 2D/3D puzzle-platformer, Shady Part of Me has you taking control of a young girl with mental health issues and her shadow as they journey through an abstract, dream-like world, where you’re never quite sure what’s happening around you. It has a well-crafted soundtrack that accompanies solid platforming mechanics and good-looking visuals, but its arthouse pretensions come at the cost of fun, gameplay and coherence, making this a difficult recommendation.
You awaken as a little girl — voiced by Skins and Game of Thrones actress Hannah Murray — in her bed, soon to find out that you’re not alone. Your shadow is very much alive, moving independently and conversing back and forth with the little girl. It’s clear that things aren’t going well in the girl’s world as the two chew the fat throughout their adventure, which involves escaping and progressing environments based around the topics of conversation. In one instance, talk about time manifests as levels and puzzles based around clocks.
As you journey through the game, the little girl and her shadow introspect and overcome her emotional struggles, talking to each other while you carry out the platforming. Each short section requires you to move both the girl and her shadow into a ring at the end of the level. The controllable shadow character can jump on other shadows cast on the wall, but you must stay in the light so as to not disappear; the little girl has to remain in the shadows because the light scares her. If you move one of them into the thing they don’t like, it’s game over. Holding a controller trigger will, however, rewind time, allowing you to attempt new routes through levels — something you will be doing a lot. See, the girl and shadow have to help each other, and you swap between them with a press of the button. The shadow lives in the 2D world cast on a wall, whereas the girl lives in the 3D world on the floor, meaning that if the girl moves boxes or objects in front of a light source, like a projector, then the shadows on the back wall move around, changing the world for your shadow self. Likewise, your shadow can pull levers that affect the little girl’s 3D world, helping her real self reach new areas.
The landscapes are rendered in a lovely chiaroscuro palette, with dark and light creating a wonderful world of contrasts. It looks fittingly moody. The music is also another of Shady Part of Me’s strengths: gentle with a touch of pop/electronica — think of your favourite lo-fi playlists — lending to the surreal, dreamlike aesthetic and upping the tension and drama at key moments. Unfortunately, this is where the good ends and the bad begins.
It’s obvious that the game’s French indie developer Douze Dixièmes was going for an emotional, arthouse vibe with their debut game, but its message gets lost in surrealist abstraction. Shady Part of Me’s overcooked enigmatism doesn’t compel you via its mysteries so much as baffle you by its complete lack of substance. The little girl and her shadow go back and forth about what are meant to be heavy mental health issues, but instead amounts to filler chatter about the world being a scary place for the girl, and how she can reconcile herself with it. What exactly they are trying to work through is not readily apparent, though, and the game does nothing to clue us in to why we should be invested — how can we care about something we don’t know anything about?
Shady Part of Me’s central conceit — its hybrid platforming — doesn’t fare much better either. Earlier we touched on how the gameplay is mechanically carried out (swapping characters, moving boxes and pulling levers). Well, that’s it. There are a couple of other mechanics discovered sporadically throughout, but they are the temporary exception rather than the rule.The environments differ from sewers to bedrooms to theatre stages, but the core gameplay is the same loop in each new place. Add to this the game’s short length of around three hours and Shady Part of Me’s mediocrity as a puzzle-platformer becomes clear.
Shady Part of Me’s concept is one of brilliance, so it’s even more stinging that its potential was wasted. The zealous pursuit of ostentatious artistry and surrealist abstraction ruin what could have been a heartfelt examination of serious struggles faced by so many. The basic gameplay mechanics hold the game back from being a more unique and enjoyable experience, too, and it fails to stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way. Its puzzling is solid, its graphical style is not often seen, and it has a great soundtrack, but these facets aren’t enough to allow Shady Part of Me to overcome its own mediocrity.
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