Attempt to reunite two wayward lovers through screen-wrapping puzzles.
PC Release: August 30, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Ah, autumn. The changing of the seasons. The onset of fall colors, the coming of the winter winds, and the merciless onslaught of the pumpkin spice lattes. Autumn represents a unique time in the year to reflect on how things have gone so far, and prepare to take cover once the snow hits. This meditative experience isn’t found in many video games, but Four Sided Fantasy, a game as much about introspection as the seasons, is here to upend that notion.
Four Sided Fantasy is the debut project of Ludo Land, a small indie developer and self-avowed fan of puzzle games like Portal and Braid. The studio claims to have taken a few notes of inspiration from Portal in its creation of Four Sided Fantasy, and the game’s been released just in time for the kickoff of the autumn gaming season. Although, to be fair, Four Sided Fantasy‘s diverse environments could make it the kickoff of virtually any gaming season.
Four Sided Fantasy is, at its most basic, a love story. The player assumes the role of a man and a woman, both of whom spend the entire game trying to reach each other. The game is a side-scrolling puzzler that makes use of screen-wrapping; ergo, players can walk off of one side of the screen and pop back up on the other. Similarly, players can hop through any gaps in the terrain and expect to come falling through the top of the screen, a party trick that takes obvious inspiration from Portal, but is no less funny here. Also like Portal, Four Sided Fantasy can be completed in two hours or so.
One area of game design that Four Sided Fantasy does not mimic Portal and Braid on is narrative, namely… that this game doesn’t really have one. Outside of the game’s premise that two people are trying to find each other in a (literally) topsy-turvy world, there is absolutely no spoken dialogue or character development. There’s the occasional implication that things are much more than they seem, like video cameras sticking out of the world’s walls, but these hints are never expounded upon throughout the game. This doesn’t make Four Sided Fantasy a bad game, by any means, but puzzler fans looking for a deep, well-written narrative like the ones in Portal and Braid are going to be sorely disappointed.
That said, Four Sided Fantasy does possess a quality that many other puzzle games lack, and that’s an acute focus on relaxation. The game’s charming aesthetic, low-fi screen backgrounds, and soothing music combine to create one of this year’s most relaxing escapades. In this regard, Four Sided Fantasy is at least partially a member of the “zen” video game genre, one of the medium’s most nebulous categories. Generally, a “zen” game has to feature relaxing music and atmosphere as its centerpiece, as in Mountain or The UnderGarden. This quality also seems to be the case for Four Sided Fantasy, intentionally or not.
The reason why “zen” relaxation is proposed as Four Sided Fantasy‘s chief quality is that its puzzles aren’t particularly difficult. All of the conundrums revolve around some form of going out one end of the screen and popping back in on the other. Players traverse a handful of worlds that each reflect a different season of the year, and each season presents its own twist on the screen-wrapping mechanic. Summer puzzles, for example, feature nothing more than simply appearing on the other side, but autumn puzzles will spawn players both on the other side of the screen, and upside-down.
Even though these mechanics become more and more elaborate as the game goes on, they never build up to any level of serious difficulty. Even the toughest puzzles in Four Sided Fantasy require only a few minutes to figure out and breeze past; this game doesn’t contain anything of the big brain-blockers found in Portal or Braid. The screen-wrapping mechanic is interesting and fun to play around with, but it also inadvertently restricts the puzzles to only so high a level of difficulty. There’s only so much that can be done with leaving the screen and popping up on the other side, even if the game gets creative with the idea.
There isn’t much more to Four Sided Fantasy‘s gameplay than the screen-wrapping. Players can run and jump just like in virtually every other platformer, and have no means of self-defense. The world they inhabit isn’t that dangerous, but there are fields of static that can evaporate either character pretty quickly. Players will automatically switch between the man and the woman when their character leaves the screen; it’s actually their counterpart that will show up on the other side. These alterations have absolutely no bearing on the gameplay, though there are a few levels where the man and woman are completely separated from each other and still have to work together.
Four Sided Fantasy only has one bug, but it’s an annoying one. Occasionally, while running, the player character will fall through the ground and into blue hell. Sometimes, he/she will get stuck on some ledge beneath the proper walking path, necessitating a do-over. Four Sided Fantasy‘s levels are not that long, but they don’t have checkpoints, and having to start over because of a bug like this can be frustrating. Most times, the character will fall into the sky and respawn on the proper path, but not every time. Not often enough to omit mentioning getting stuck on a ledge.
Even though Four Sided Fantasy‘s narrative is weak and its puzzles simple, the artwork in this game is fantastic. Each of the four seasonal environments is decked out in eye-popping color, with tons of objects and intricate details in the background to retain the eye’s attention. The art style espouses a combination of old-school, low-fi colors and hand-painted designs that players will get lost in. The autumn season level in particular is gorgeous, with groves of red trees and picturesque rural scenery. Even if Four Sided Fantasy doesn’t quite hit the mark on the puzzles, it is more than easy on the eyes.
Just as Four Sided Fantasy does a great job of visually appealing, so too is the game pleasant to listen to. The soundtrack is a selection of soft synth tracks with various distortion effects, each set to the different seasons of the game. The songs are all relaxing and beautifully composed, as is the birdsong and other sound effects included to round out the game world’s vitality. It’s a game that won’t be revisited for its puzzles so much as its invigorating imagery.
Ultimately, Four Sided Fantasy‘s lack of a narrative is easier to forgive in the face of how darn pretty it is, but there was a lot of potential here for an interesting story. Not even at the end of the game are its many questions answered, from the presence of security cameras on the walls to how and why this couple became estranged in the first place. The floor-falling bug mentioned earlier can further cement the sense of purposelessness.
However, despite the bug, the easy puzzles, and the lack of a narrative, Four Sided Fantasy is still a game that every puzzle and platformer fan should try. Its environments and music create a soothing experience that will placate the mind when its puzzles aren’t challenging enough. Four Sided Fantasy swings for the brain, but ends up hitting the heart instead. Its conundrums are nothing to write home about, but its breathtaking artwork and gentle music make it an acceptable swan song for the summer gaming season. It’s certainly more novel of an autumn introduction than another pumpkin latte.
You can buy Four Sided Fantasy here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.