Iris.Fall, developed and published by NEXT Studios, is a short and sweet puzzler that manages to charm and frustrate in equal measure. After a brief introduction – which sees an orphaned (?) girl chase a black cat through the dark, brooding streets – you take control of Iris as she traverses a derelict theatre. It’s a nonsensical mishmash of twisting corridors, oversized stages, puppetry rigs, and increasingly surreal locations.
After that introductory sequence, however, you’ll only experience several short scenes between each chapter and an indecipherable ending sequence that simply left me more confused. Sure, it’s clear you must be experiencing some sort of dream – which allows for the wonderfully varied locations – and there are hints of environmental storytelling, but it never comes together in a coherent, meaningful way.
When it comes to the gameplay, Iris.Fall offers up some novel and well-crafted puzzles. The most common gameplay loop involves transitioning between the “real” 3D world and 2D shadow planes. These sequences often require you to find specific objects in the environment, mount them in the right spot (using a very simple inventory system), then manipulate them so that they cast a shadow you can traverse.
Puzzles start simple but, by the end, you will need to line up multiple shadow-casting props or shift interconnected objects that move simultaneously. Several chapters also offer up unique puzzles that might require an appreciation for 3D object manipulation, pattern recognition, or memorisation. By far, Iris.Fall’s greatest strength is the variety of puzzles on offer and you’ll rarely feel like you’re going through the same motions as before.
Unfortunately, these puzzles can also be a source of frustration. Iris.Fall’s puzzles only have one solution – limiting replayability outside of achievements/trophies that task you with solving them in the fewest number of moves – but there are multiple ways to get there. The problem is that puzzles are most easily solved from their starting position, yet few offer the ability to reset them. When you couple that with turn-limited puzzles that either don’t reset properly or simply bug out, you’ll find restarting from the last checkpoint is the only way forward.
Another minor gripe, specifically for console players, is the clunky gamepad controls. The game is incredibly simple, with the ability to move around in a limited 3D space or on a 2D plane, select items from an inventory, and hit switches. However, like so many point-and-click ports, the protagonist excels at getting stuck in the environment and activating the wrong object if several are in close proximity.
Returning to the positives, Iris.Fall features a striking black-and-white visual style that only uses colour for light sources and important background details. The environments are often packed with detail and, in keeping with the fantastical theatre theme, have complex moving parts that range from tiny clinking gears, to twitchy marionettes, industrial-sized pistons, and a world built inside a pop-up storybook.
These visuals, combined with creepy ambient audio and a moving soundtrack, generate a forbidding, fantasy atmosphere. Unfortunately, and despite the relatively modest PC requirements, performance on the last-gen consoles is poor, with full-screen tearing often ruining the otherwise excellent visual presentation.
In conclusion, Iris.Fall is a solid puzzle game, with multiple gameplay elements that take advantage of the distinctive visuals style. However, it’s also over quickly, offers little replayability, and lacks a clear narrative punch. That said, if you’re a fan of light- and shadow-based puzzling, the low price point makes this well worth a look.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation can be purchased here for £15.99.
Developer: NExT Studios
Publishers: NExT Studios, PM Studios, Proxima Beta Pte. Limited
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Enjoy the review? want to read more of our reviews? then click right here to be whisked away to the realm of our opinions.