Shadow theatre or shadow play has been popular ever since the human race learnt that projecting shadows on walls via light could be used as some good old evening entertainment – at least until the dawn of Netflix. From the simple technique of using your hands to create magical animals to the more complex use of stick puppets and 2D backdrops, it’s something that has amazed generations.
In the gaming market, that same use of shadows has become a very popular technique, with it utilised in several platformers over the last few years. In My Shadow is another game to enter that world of silhouette, tasking the gamer to manipulate the shadowy world to create pathways through a level. This time though, a very personal family story is attached.
At its soul, In My Shadow is a puzzle-platformer with several different levels worked in over a few different worlds. But there is a story at the heart of this game and it’s one about growing older, looking back with regret, and trying to understand your place in your family.
You play the part of Bella who is looking back at her life, trying to understand her place in the narrative and the decisions she has made. For example, in one chapter we see her remember her childhood relationship with her dog, in the second it focuses on her unfolding relationship with her brother. It’s a nice holding device for the actual puzzling that runs over the top of it, working very well with a narrative that, at times, can be very familiar and a bit heartbreaking. This comes to the fore every three levels or so, as you get an animated cutscene and a bit more of the solidly-written narrative.
In My Shadow itself is presented in chapters and these are viewed through the eyes of Bella, looking at a cutout of a doll’s house, with each room being a specific chapter. Each of these segments has a different way of using the shadows with perspective, but let us start from the beginning. In each of the rooms, you have the shadow of a little Bella on the left-hand side; it’s up to you to get to the shadow of a family member on the right-hand side. In your way are platforms, obstacles, and deadly objects that you have to get over while collecting three silhouetted pages along the way. Easy, yes?
You can jump with Bella, but that’s about your lot. But what you also have is the ability to manipulate the shadows in the room to ensure the actual platforming goes from the impossible to doable. It’s here where you switch between two modes with a touch of your X button. In one of those modes you are controlling the shadowy Bella as she does her platforming. In the other you are manipulating objects in the room, changing the shape, height, and width of the shadows they are projecting. So, for example, you might have a box in the room that can move up and down or left and right. If you move it left and right you can find the best possible position for Bella to jump, picking up the pages she needs or to get over a deadly obstacle. if you move it up away from the wall it will make the shadow wider and higher, while going in the opposite direction will make it smaller.
As you progress through the levels the objects you can use to shape the shadows become more varied, like chairs or tables. The difficulty increases where instead of just worrying about one wall, you are found moving across two, dealing with how light shapes around corners. As you would expect, quite quickly things ramp the tricky concept up, and the way the difficulty raises might just be too much for some.
Visually and there’s no debate that In My Shadows is very clever in its use of light, shadow and the way you can switch between the two worlds of gameplay. I like the inventiveness and admire the visual challenges the game employs throughout. It’s helped that some nice cutscenes have a very child-friendly animated feel to them, with almost Nintendo-level cuteness. The menu design of the doll’s house is a nice touch as well whilst soundwise it’s all about the sentimental music that works well throughout.
In My Shadow will appeal to the puzzle addicts out there, especially those who like a challenge. It comes to Xbox with an almost mobile phone structure to it and the level design is perfect for those commuter moments as you could, if skilled enough, breeze through levels in short spurts. Personally, I found the platforming and the game design to work very well, but you’ll need to be prepared to put your brain into gear, especially later on in the game.
There are bits that drag a bit towards the end and you may only become emotionally engaged with certain elements of the story, but if you’re after a bit of shadow play that’s more involved than just making bat shapes with your hands on the bedroom wall, then In My Shadow is the game for you.
In My Shadow is available to purchase from the Xbox Store