Alice In Stumped-her-land.
What exactly is Iris.Fall? From the oddly punctuated title, you’d be forgiven for thinking it were some sort of anime JRPG. Far from it – this dreamlike adventure actually has more in common with classic English literature. Alice in Wonderland, to be exact, with the well-worn setup of a girl falling into a strange and unfamiliar world.
Rather than awakening from a dream at the end, however, our young heroine Iris begins her story as she jolts out of a restless slumber. Following the trail of a black cat, she soon finds herself in a surreal theatre with sets built from odd contraptions, creepy puppets and props. Only by solving a variety of puzzles can she make her way through the theatre and uncover the mysteries of what it is and why she’s there.
Iris.Fall adopts the mechanic seen in Contrast and, to a similar degree, A Link Between Worlds. Touch one of the magic books lying around and you’ll project yourself onto the wall as a shadow. The second and third dimensions are inextricably linked, with what you do in each affecting the other. It adds a quirky element which forms the crux of many of the more enjoyable puzzles in the game.
Unlike in a traditional point-and-click adventure, in which puzzles involve gathering items and clicking the right objects, the puzzles in Iris.Fall are more hands-on and mechanical in nature. Some contain potentially hundreds or thousands of combinations – and this is where it can become frustrating, if you don’t have the spatial reasoning or foresight to plan several steps ahead.
On several occasions, I almost lost the will to continue. A bridge on which you have to simply make it to the other side by raising and lowering platforms is made excruciating by the fact that each switch can only be accessed from a certain place, and lowers one platform while raising another. And, every platform becomes disabled at a certain height. Another puzzle demands that you rotate blocks to line up all of the lit-up squares on one side – a literal Rubik’s cube. I never could solve those as a kid.
Make no mistake, Iris.Fall will test you to your limits. But as much as I’d like to blame bad puzzle design for my occasionally stymied progress, it’s hard to pick flaws here. Challenges are clearly presented and require sound logic to reach their solutions. It’s just that sometimes those solutions are bloody hard. You’ll need a lot of lateral thinking, brute force determination, or both.
Many of the puzzles are manageable, however, and there are some really creative examples in the bunch. One puzzle near the end is an intricate culmination of what you’ve learned, in which you control multiple stage props in order to reach different switches with your shadow powers. The absolute highlight, though? A beautiful pen-and-ink pop-up book level in which you flip the pages to navigate staircases reminiscent of MC Escher’s Relativity’.
This isn’t the only time Iris.Fall feels like something straight out of a storybook. It consistently looks like one, drawn with a bold comic flair – sketchy lines and angular geometry bringing Borderlands to mind. But unlike the saturated wastes of Pandora, Iris.Fall’s world is almost entirely monochromatic, with only muted sepia tones afforded by the sparse glow of the lighting. This lack of vibrancy is brilliantly compensated for with swathes of intricate detail and a contrast granted by the interplay of light and dark.
Everything is lovingly crafted and animated in order to bring its fictional world to life, from the steady whirring of cogs in machines, to the stilted cavorting of animatronic puppets. A haunting, melodic soundtrack seamlessly layers on top of the stark aesthetic to deliver heaps of unsettling atmosphere.
Iris.Fall only takes a few hours to complete, and this feels just right. From start to finish it’s an engaging and well-polished experience that finishes on a high, before the demands of its tricky puzzling take too much of a toll. While the easily frustrated may wish to steer clear, this is a stylish brain-teasing trip worth taking.
[Reviewed on PC]