I have always had a soft spot for mind-bending psychedelic films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or, more recently, the likes of Annihilation and Mandy. I get a kick out of trippy visuals, ones that play with reality. I’ve often thought that games are the perfect medium for such visuals, where the immersive nature of video games could heighten these experiences. And if there was a game that could incorporate that in its gameplay? Then I am all for it…
Supermininal is a game that fits this mandate. Developed by Pillow Castle, it is a first-person puzzle game based around forced perspective and optical illusions. Superliminal sees the player take control of an unnamed protagonist who has enrolled in a new technology called SomnaSculpt, a dream therapy program. This is supposed to help with certain life problems, but during the process, something goes wrong. The player character becomes stuck in a dream, unable to wake up.
The gameplay of Superliminal is quite difficult to describe. The beginning of Superliminal sees it demonstrating to the player the core mechanic of the game, the ability to change the size of an object. This is done via manipulating an object based around forced perspective. An object can be picked up and placed in a way that visually enlarges it based on the player’s perspective. The object will then change in size to match this. The player can use this mechanic to increase and decrease the size of an object and progress through obstacles. For example, early on in Superliminal, the player is in a large room confronted with a door out of reach. There is a cheese wedge on a table, and the player can increase the size of it to create a ramp and reach the door.
As the player progresses, these puzzles become increasingly complex. Other mechanics are also added. For example, there are images that have different segments, and when these are matched according to the correct angle, these become objects that can be used. I found that most of the puzzles worked well and that the solutions were logical and rewarding to solve. But as with many puzzle games, there was the odd solution that seemed obtuse. On the whole, I found Superliminal to be a satisfying puzzler to work through.
As the player makes their way through these puzzles and through dream cycles, Superliminal becomes increasingly surreal. The developers really start to mess with the player’s expectations where, for example, a walk through door leads to the player character falling into another room from above.
These rooms are in mundane environments – plain and simple rooms, in settings that are typical in day-to-day life. These aren’t particularly interesting, and Superliminal isn’t graphically complex, though it does make good use of vibrant, bright colors. It could be argued that the developers don’t take advantage of a dreamscape setting by using mundane environments like these. However, I’d argue that it works in the game’s favour – when it takes some surreal turns, it helps to mess with the player’s perceptions. They give the player a false sense of security, so when something odd occurs, it comes out of the blue and can be a shock.
It also results in a big payoff towards the end of the game. No spoilers, but it is here where the developers embrace the psychedelic experience that a dream setting can provide. I loved this part of Superliminal, and it served as a crescendo to the game. It ends on a high note with great use of music, arresting visuals, and an ending that ties its themes together in a satisfying way. I was thankful that I had decided to play the last part of Superliminal on my docked Switch – I had been playing the game in handheld mode, and I would’ve missed out on a brilliant experience if I had seen it on a small screen instead.
It did make me question its suitability for the Switch. Superliminal is a short game, one that can easily be beaten in a single two-hour session. In this way, it is well suited as a handheld game. However, it relies on keen observation of the environment, and this can be a touch trickier on a small screen. And as I alluded to – those surreal, psychedelic moments just work better on a larger canvas.
It is a bit of a catch-22 situation as Superliminal runs better in handheld mode. I first loaded up Superliminal in docked mode, and the framerate was inconsistent with some noticeable screen-tearing. These issues were massively reduced in handheld mode. I am not aware of how well it runs on other consoles. However, these are typical problems found in games ported to the Switch. On balance, I would recommend playing it on another system.
Despite these issues, I did not find many faults with Superliminal. Whilst it is a short game, it packs in a lot of creativity in its short length and manages to dodge the problem of outstaying its welcome. It is a truly unique experience with a clever central mechanic. Though some puzzles are obtuse, most are logical and satisfying to solve. I loved its surreal moments, and these only increase as the game goes on. It all culminates in a payoff that will stay with me for a long time. I wholeheartedly recommend Superliminal.
Developer: Pillow Castle Games
Publisher: Pillow Castle Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: 12th November 2019