Single-screen practical puzzlers can be quite satisfying to master so here's the very clever emotionally-charged indie A Fold Apart.
A Fold Apart begins with a character selection screen where you can choose whether each character is a man or a woman. No matter what you select, the orange one will be a nature-loving teacher while the blue one remains a city-dwelling architect. I think it's rather commendable to give players the choice because it doesn't really affect the gameplay or narrative in the slightest so why not let folks pick whatever they want? They could be an alligator and an ironing board for all I care. Anyway, the story that plays out revolves around the fact that the blue character moves to a city for a job while the orange one stays back and tries to live their life as normal but of course, being apart sucks so they long for each other while experiencing a whole array of emotions as well as cleverly designed puzzles.
Now, I'm going to go on a bit of a rant because I play a lot of indies that try and portray emotional stories and I find that few of them succeed in doing so effectively. In A Fold Apart's case, I found the story-telling to be extremely obvious, unsubtle, and one-note. Well, that sounded harsh but at the same time, I understand that some folks prefer this kind of story-telling. In other words, they need to be figuratively bludgeoned over the head with simplistic emotional plot points in order to feel something. I personally find that subtle and layered stories are much more effective and the most competent game that I can think of in this regard is Ghost Giant which is essentially about mental health and it portrays its story in a realistic and subtle fashion with plenty of layers to dig through. Unfortunately, A Fold Apart doesn't explore much beyond the notion of "Not being together is tough and frequently causes needless complexity."
On the plus side, A Fold Apart looks fantastic with incredibly stylish visuals and gentle music that helps bring the atmosphere to new heights. As you play, you basically control your character as they move across 2D photo-like scenarios that feature 3D visuals. Having your character walk from one photo to another often results in them appearing different with new lighting and such which just looks wonderful. It's honestly one of the best-looking and imaginative indies that I've played in quite a while.
I sure wrote a lot so far without discussing the gameplay so let's hop to it! A Fold Apart is basically a 2D practical puzzler where each scenario has a front and a back. The cleverness comes in the fact that you can fold the level at specified edges in order to make platforms come together and the goal is to acquire a star that usually resides in a hard-to-reach location. As you progress, more elements get added so the difficulty curve definitely becomes much more challenging to overcome. For example, you'll have to fold down corners, rotate stages, push and guide boxes to reach high ledges, deal with disappearing platforms, and even make your character fall after flipping them upside-down. The resulting formula is challenging, complex, and spot-on for mind-bending puzzle fun.
On the downside, some of A Fold Apart's later puzzles can be exceptionally frustrating to figure out. Once, I felt like I tried everything and after a while, I realised that there was a platform on the very bottom edge that I could fall onto which blended into the background. Another time, I pushed a block to bridge the gap between 2 platforms and for whatever reason, my character refused to step off the box and onto the other side. I guess that wasn't the solution that the developers had in mind so it doesn't count, right?
Finally, A Fold Apart's campaign can easily be completed in 1 or 2 gaming sessions and once you finish it, there are no replay incentives. Its short length combined with the fact that there are no collectibles or challenges is quite a tough pill to swallow although the journey is certainly memorable and rewarding on its own. Also, I wish there was a co-op multiplayer component in the form of a bonus campaign or a supplementary list of challenges because playing with a loved one would fit perfectly with the overarching narrative.
Practical puzzle games don't get much cleverer than A Fold Apart. Although it's a short adventure, it's one that you surely won't forget.
- + Clever puzzle gameplay that becomes surprisingly complex and challenging
- + Some may enjoy the emotional story
- + Fantastic stylish visuals and music
- - Fairly short and some puzzles can be exceptionally frustrating to figure out
- - Some may find the story too one-note
- - Lacks replay incentives