Sym is a puzzling platformer game where you play as a teenage boy named Josh that's suffering from social anxiety. Josh also has a split personality and this personality is his shadow self. In order to beat this game and get over your problems, you and your shadow self must work as a team and complete some interesting levels. You and your shadow self will also operate on different levels (literally) as your regular self can walk on top of platforms, while your shadow self can sink into the shadows and do the same but in an inverted world instead. This game is just as SYMple as that (hurr hurr hurr). (Click on "Read More" to read the full review).
The story to this game is not a very clear one as you don't learn much of what the game is about from playing it, you'll have to read the description from the game's store page if you really want to know the story. From what I got from playing the game is that you are a person trapped in a weird and hellish dimension to where you make friends with a shadow monster that is also trapped. This new found friendship is the key for both of you to escape and make it back to your own home world, that's what I got from it. When I did read the description to what this game is about then I got one of those weird sensation to where I thought to myself "hmm, I see where they are going with this".
The way they treat this problem is okay but they really only highlight this problem in a few levels, mainly the beginning and the end, everything else is story-less and just a simple puzzle platformer. Gameplay is simple, you have your main guy walk on the surfaces, while you can invert yourself into a shadow form and run in the shadows (like I said in the opening paragraph) but the challenge is trying to find the right path to get to the exit. I like the gameplay as being able to transform makes the levels much more expansive and not full of wasted space. I also found the game to be pretty fun as trying to figure out how to get to the end did force me to rethink how I played this game and that was a refreshing experience.
Difficulty of this game is as you'd expect, the levels start off from being simple and then growing harder as it goes along. The levels towards the end are incredibly frustrating to where you'd want to pick up the keyboard and/or controller, smash it against a wall, and then burn the computer in a fit of pure white rage. This is a game where you do not have to play from beginning to end in one long consistent line, all the levels are unlocked right from the time you beat the tutorial levels and I was mixed on that. Sure, you can skip some levels that you are having trouble on and play them again later when ever you are ready... But to skip to the final level and finish the game without playing any other level? I find that ruins the game a little, it gets rid of the feeling to want to explore the game and cut right to the end.
The designs of the levels are pretty crazy, they look like something right out of an art piece and are full of crazy platforms and traps. You will also notice some weird symbols that look ugly but they serve a purpose, they are blocks that will switch from black to white (same goes the other way around) and this will expose or enclose more areas for you to explore, so you'll need to really think about how to use the patterns to your advantage for if you want to beat the game. Not all of the symbols will do that, there are some symbols that will activate traps that will get you killed, do not worry, the trap symbols are different from the shade changing ones and you can easily tell them all apart. I really enjoyed the way how they all worked but like I said before, I found the symbols pretty ugly and they also happen to be nearly everywhere you look as well.
Controls are symple... Uhh... I mean... Controls are simple to learn as when you play as the human guy you run left and right by hitting the directional keys, plus you can jump by hitting the up key. You can morph into the shadows by tapping the down key. Morphing in this game is decent and it is mostly responsive but you will get those times where you will need to hit the morph button twice just to get it going.
The controls in the shadow realm are nearly the exact same as playing in the non-shadow realm, what's so different you ask? The only difference is that the jump and morph buttons are inverted as the shadow realm is an inverted place in general. You will need to re-think how to play the game while in the shadow realm as it feels like playing Super Mario Bros. (1986) upside down. It won't take long to get the hang of hanging upside down as it is easy to learn. I liked the whole inverted vibe of the shadow realm, it added a different view to this game (pun fully intended), while not an original concept (playing a game from upside down has been done in many other games) this game really does make this concept feel very funky fresh.
If you have the feeling to unleash the madness and come up with your own maddening level, you can. This game comes with a level editor that includes a wide range of parts that will put your creative skills to the test. The editor is very simple to use and it uses a very simple drag and drop method and is also easy to switch out parts. The downside is that you can't make gigantic levels like in the main game but you can string all of your levels together to make it seem like a huge level. Once you have made a level you can then upload that level to the Steam Workshop where you can also download levels made by other players. From all the levels that I have downloaded, most of them were not very good as a good chunk of them were made by people using a blank slate just to get a silly Steam Achievement (I at least put some effort into my level to get that particular achievement).
Graphics in this game are in black and white and that's always interesting to see in 2D platformers no matter how many times it has been done, it always has a nice fresh appeal and adds mystique to the game. The character designs in this game are very grotesque but grotesque in a purposeful way to symbolize how ugly the times that Josh is going through. Character designs might freak you out as they look like the bizarre love child of Salad Fingers and Slenderman but done in a fun way, so you will not be turned off by the look. Graphics are also very simple looking and that's a good thing in this case as you can make out where you are and where you are going due to the clean look.
I liked the music in this game as it has a very chilling, yet very relaxing piano soundtrack and it makes me feel like that I am trying to escape from a mental institution, so it adds a nice atmosphere. The genius thing about the soundtrack is that when you travel into the shadow realm you'll notice that the soundtrack gores from being relaxing into being a very disturbing, demonic sound that will make you feel uncomfortable. The sound effects in this game aren't that special as they are just simple footstep sounds and splats from landing a jump.
Overall, this was a very interesting game and makes for a nice one to spend a nice afternoon on. I'm going to give this game a recommendation as it is a game that is worth a playthrough. Interestingly entertaining.
Developer: Atrax Games
Price: $7.99 (Steam)