What if M.C. Escher had a shady cat. An Iris.Fall review

A young girl wakes up from what appears to be a nightmare. She looks at her hands, puzzled, and looks up to the window. There is a black cat there, watching her. The cat bolts. Iris, our protagonist, chases it. She is led down the stairs, out of the building, and across the city to an ominous looking building. The cat looks back at her and then darts inside. Iris follows, hesitating and unsure. Inside she descends a stairwell to find the cat waiting at a gap where the floor has fallen through. No way across. But what is that? A book with a large eye on it. The girl gets closer and the book flips open. The cat leaps and enters the book - becoming a projection of itself into the shadow realm - and uses the now unbroken path to cross. Iris follows.


What is it? 

Iris.Fall is a puzzle game that uses a combination of 3D movement and 2D puzzles. You will be placing objects, moving things around and using shadows to navigate the levels and progress forward through its eight chapters.  

It' s the use of shadows and light, and a captivating art style that separates Iris.Fall from being just another ordinary platform game.


Gameplay

You take control of Iris in a beautiful yet very surrealistic world. Not holding back, the game immediately introduces you to the main gameplay mechanic from the moment you start. While the mechanic itself is simple on screen, it can be somewhat difficult to explain. Here's the core of it. The game has you do some light platforming around in each area with no ability to jump. This creates the need to have a flat, direct pathway to get from point A to point B. In some instances, the floor might be missing in an area or a bridge broken out. The game will have you utilize the "shadow realm", signified by a large book with a creepy eye on it, to move around instead. In order to ensure you have that easy pathway in the shadow realm, you may need to move things around in the "normal" world. The shadows you create by moving objects in front of the light source will create a new path in the background. 




The core of the game is in its puzzles. Oh, the puzzles. They are not just there as an obstacle to overcome. Many times, solving a puzzle rewards you with an object or moves something that is needed for your platforming. These puzzles are all drastically different, and I feel this is where the game really shines. Bring your thinking cap as for the most part there is little hand holding and there are no clues on how to solve these puzzles. 



In a rare few cases, you can determine your solution from the environment. A good example is the typewriter puzzle. The answer is in front of you before you go into the puzzle, it's imperative to look extremely closely for the solution.



I found that the puzzles varied in difficulty. Some required intense scrutiny of the surroundings while others utilized logic in regards to space and shadow. Still others were a matter of putting down the pieces, figuring out how they interact, and using trial and error to get to a solution. 

Be careful though! Many puzzles have red herrings that are there solely to confuse you - such as interactable objects you don’t need or pieces that won’t be used.


Presentation

The color palette in the game is very minimalistic and muted. For the most part it is monochromatic, with tones of sepia and the occasional blue or yellow accent. This creates a feel of being present in a living art piece but also allows for the light and shadow mechanic to really shine (editor note pun intended)


There is no spoken narrative. Instead, the story is a visual one conveyed by a series of images. The imagery is beautiful - but strange. As you investigate the spooky levels and solve the puzzles to move along, there’s a persistent theme of puppets, eyeballs, and objects that are larger than life. It has a very strong Escher or Dali vibe as you move through the world. 




The game’s music is fairly muted and could have been stronger. In many chapters, there is little to no music to be found. There are a few times there is ethereal music that plays, but I really feel the game could have benefitted from a stronger soundtrack. One of my favorite musical moments in the game came in an early puzzle where a bunch of gears and objects were moving around. As they made their respective clangs and knocks, it came together as a rhythm-melody that I really enjoyed. I would have liked to see the music and environment play together more than it did. You can listen to some of the music and how they created the gears soundtrack here


As you move through the first few levels, there are some minor tutorial hints that pop up on the screen to direct you how to interact with objects. Controls are pretty simple. You use the analog or D-Pad to move Iris around. You use X to interact with switches, B to back out of puzzles or skip a cutscene. You can also use A to approach or interact with an object, and Y to look at your inventory or use an item



I’m split 50/50 on the game’s functionality. While I didn’t encounter game breaking glitches The analog sticks are excessively sensitive so when you are flipping through different interfaces to solve puzzles things seem to skip too far, misalign and overall do not seem to go where you intend them to go. It is easier during those sections to move using the D-Pad to get better control. Part of me wonders if this is an issue from porting the game from PC to Xbox. 


Another issue I encountered was with performance.

The main game console I play on is an Xbox One X. While arguably the most powerful console in the last generation, I immediately noticed lag when I was walking around and interacting with objects. Nothing major, it only lasted a second or so but it was enough to be a nuisance and persisted through all my playthroughs. Interestingly enough, it was much worse in the first sections of the game than the latter. It was most noticeable when the game switched to different scenes and during some animations.  I tried multiple times, days, playthroughs and even an uninstall & reinstall and this problem did not go away. 




Let me put out a big “your mileage may vary” disclaimer on these issues though. In an attempt to find out what was happening, I spoke with a friend who played it on the Xbox Series X,  and he did not experience the same concerns I had. The issues may be console generation specific. Perhaps a patch can solve this.



Final Thoughts: It took me just over six hours to 100% the game. During this playthrough I had to close out & return at a later time twice because I was deep into the puzzle and couldn’t make it work, so I got frustrated. This is not so much a reflection on the puzzle as it is my inability to solve it. If I ever see that bridge again I swear…
But in all seriousness. The technical issues did not interrupt my gameplay enough to become a major problem, just a light annoyance, and I would still recommend the game as worth a playthrough.


Parental recommendation: The game is rated E. It definitely has some spooky thematic elements, and the puzzles may be difficult for younger players. 

Overall Recommendation: Play it to see the beautiful strange world & neat puzzles


Achievements: There’s a nice balance of achievements in this. There are a number of achievements that are unmissable, like completing chapters. There are some that are harder and require you to solve a puzzle a specific way the first time you encounter it - yikes! Thankfully, there is a chapter select mechanic for (mostly) easy access to return to prior puzzles. There are sometimes multiple puzzles in a chapter and you have to get to the section you need but overall not too punishing. Through natural play I was able to get around 75% of the achievements. 


Overview:

Pros:

+Gorgeous World

+Interesting Puzzles

+Varied Gameplay


Cons: 

-Performance Issues

-Would have loved more music

-Puzzles can be infuriating



Game Information

Title: Iris.Fall

Website: https://www.nextstudios.com/iris/index_en.html

Developer: NExT Studios

Publisher: PM Studios, Inc.

Release Date: 1-7-2021

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows

Review platform: Xbox One X

Price at launch: USD - $19.99 Digital (All platforms) & $39.99 Physical (PS4/Switch only)

ESRB: E for Everyone


about : Kyleia is an avid achievement chaser with a burning love for all games of nautical, seafaring and pirate adventure. She can be found streaming her achievement hunts, checking out indie games and building craft projects on twitch.tv/Kyleia .


 


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