It is hard in any media to get your work recognised. There are so many interesting projects coming to life these days, and it is sad to think that quality or creativity does not necessarily guarantee financial success. Popularity is what sells, and video games are a business that can be harsh and demanding. I wanted to start out my review like this, as it correlates to one day when I was searching online for a new game in development called Toasty. This led me to instead find an unfamiliar team of developers and their only title on steam as of now: Parallax.
“First Person Puzzler” should be its own genre
We have had quite a few noticeable titles within this category, like Portal, Antichamber, and I believe you could even argue that the Myst series also falls into this description. Parallax does fit in as well, with an easy to understand premise. Your goal is to find your way to the end of each stage, all being unlocked in a linear fashion. Simple as that, and while you cannot do much besides jump and activate buttons, Parallax shows how important good level design is within this genre.
The core concept of Parallax is already presented in its title. Every stage contains circled portals where one side will take you to the other dimension, while the other side will act as a stop sign. From here, you will have to use both worlds to affect one another in order to get to the goal. The first couple of levels start out easy enough, teaching you how the portals can be a hindrance and a help. These act like solid tutorials, with the proceeding stages adding more setups to be mindful of, like turning platforms, utilising ramps for big leaps, how gravity can switch on specific lanes, and so on.
This is what changes this title from a standard puzzle game into a brilliant one: it always teaches the player, while simultaneously challenges their logical thinking throughout. Parallax will make you pay attention in every stage and teach you new concepts through simpler puzzles, before tackling them in more complicated setups. All of the 38 stages were engaging and demanding challenges, that never overstayed their welcome. Many puzzles can seem bizarre, but every single one has a clever and sensible idea behind them. It also helps that there are so many details you can see in the stages’ layouts from afar, making nothing unnecessarily obscured.
Once you know how to reach the endings to the stages, Parallax can be beaten in two hours depending on your skills. While a couple of more stages would have been welcoming, it is hard to argue that I was not satisfied and felt outright exhausted when I beat this title. The later stages can be severely disorienting, but the game does a great job at making you prepared for progressively harder challenges, where logic will triumph in the end. Simple in concept, but Parallax will demand every part of your brainpower to be beaten. And it is wonderful.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
The problem and joy with artistic designs
I put it like this, as the quality of this game’s visuals will be very subjective. You could argue that they are too simple to be creative, and I would in all honesty understand your perspective. However, I believe the take on a minimalistic style was done with the utmost care and love for the concepts Parallax wanted to present. The focus on only utilising two colours makes this world easy to decipher from its shapes, due to how everything has a design to represent a clear function. For example, the moving arrows on a ramp will make the player jump far and a set of shifting diamonds will act as a button.
This is a beautiful way of keeping things simplistic and focusing on the puzzles, without any visual distractions getting in the way. I also love the idea of using only two colours, as the other world will have the colours reversed, making it an effective form of immersion. A clever take on duality, if you will. Should you wish for some more flavour, you can change the colour scheme in the menu, including one that reminds me of the original Game Boy. In any case, I believe this choice makes Parallax true to its name in design and easier to get to grips with, while still conveying an uncanny atmosphere that is both familiar and unique.
This hollow and vast world actually becomes inviting thanks to the game’s audio. In the general world, there will be calm melodies played on instruments such as a xylophone, easing the player dealing with demanding puzzles. As an interesting shift, the other world will have more of an electric echo to its tracks, almost like a disoriented communication device. This is quite a neat way to showcase that this is not a part of a world you are familiar with and contacts are limited. Nathan Antony’s music was put to good use here, and I believe it all works together to give the player a relaxing, yet alien atmosphere. Simple indeed, but not to a fault I believe.
Presentation Score: 9/10
How fast can you act?
Every stage will grade you in the number of actions, deaths, and the time it took to beat it. While this is a nice way to show off your skills, it also feels strange as once you solve a puzzle the first time, getting the best rank will not be difficult at all. It is kinda similar to being able to answer a mathematical problem as fast as you can after solving it the first time. Dying is also more about finding your right footing, since you will start in a safe place as if nothing happened if you fall off the stage. This whole concept feels sadly tacked on and barely interesting enough to do. Even if doing a speedrun of the entire game is more fun due to more puzzles to tackle on in a row, it does not add much to a game focused on deciphering the environments.
Extra Score: 4/10
While Parallax does not have many reasons to come back to it after one playthrough, it is still a great puzzle game that uses the concept of two worlds wonderfully. Every puzzle is intriguing thanks to fantastic level designs and an atmosphere that is in tone with the game’s concept, making it simply satisfying to play. Even if Toasty Games has now gone defunct, I am happy to see that the developers are still working on other fascinating projects under new companies. I definitely believe Parallax had something to do with them still being in this business, and that should speak volume for this title’s quality.