When Xbox One first launched it had a few notable titles in the digital storefront, and among these was a neat little platformer called Contrast. Although it likely wasn’t the first video game to attempt this feat, Contrast featured a mix of 2D and 3D platformer elements as part of its game design. The 3D segments took place in vibrant polygonal settings, the 2D platforming took place among the shadows… literally. While players could control the physical character in 3D, its shadow was controlled separately wherever it could be cast.
Since then, a few other developers of note have attempted this 2D/3D platformer hybrid, where rather than settling for 2.5D, they choose to implement both dimensions separately within its overarching level design. Not long ago, we found ourselves quite impressed with Shady Part of Me, an excellent puzzle platformer which featured 2D and 3D that made use of shadow antics. Another similar title now joins the fray, with Iris.Fall being the latest of shadowy platformers available on Xbox One. Although the game itself has been available on PC for quite some time, Iris.Fall now finds its way onto Xbox One, Series X|S and other platforms.
To say Iris.Fall and Shady Part of Me are similar would not be an exaggeration in the slightest. In fact, you wouldn’t be faulted for confusing one for the other. They are both puzzle platformers, both games feature a similar design where 2D platforming takes place among the shadows, while the 3D is contained in the physical/light realm, both have a strong monochrome visual style, and they both happen to deliver a surrealist narrative. Despite these strong similarities and shared ideas, both games differ a lot in their execution. If one were pressed to pick the better game, then Shady Part of Me certainly has the edge, as its game design has a bit more in terms of gameplay variety and substance. That being said, it’s better to have two inventive shadow platformers than just one, so you really can’t go wrong either way. Iris.Fall certainly executes its vision and ideas quite differently, and while it isn’t an enormous adventure by any stretch, it still has plenty of memorable puzzles and a compelling visual style.
The story has a vague and mysterious setup, where a young girl (who sort of looks like a doll or puppet) is following a creepy black cat in a desolate location, with no real context or motive provided. Much of the game is following these characters, letting the game world piece itself together as you work through the short adventure. It isn’t a lengthy game; it’s just over a couple of hours long depending on how good you are at puzzles, with the journey split into a number of chapters, with each chapter containing a few small puzzles and one major puzzle. Each puzzle does a decent job of fitting into the narrative and revealing some details about the game world. Even with such a short play time, the build towards small revelations takes time and keeps you intrigued and guessing.
The visual style of the game is what stands out most about the presentation. The graphics make use of cel-shaded techniques where different shades of grey are used to create a surprisingly vibrant world. The character models and objects look clean and crisp, and while some of the animations feel a bit on the clunky side, the graphics still complement the artistic style of the game quite well. Further enhancing the presentation is the sound design, where haunting sound effects are used to create a mysterious atmosphere. It’s a bit like that PlayStation 2 classic ICO (2001) in that regard, using very little music and instead making use of profound sound effects to encourage player immersion.
The puzzle platformer design of Iris.Fall is quite strong, although calling it a “platformer” wouldn’t be entirely accurate given that the main character, and her shadow by extension, are unable to jump. It’s an odd omission where so many of the puzzles could hypothetically have a very simple solution had the character been able to jump, but alas. Still, even as an adventure the 2D and 3D elements blend together nicely enough for some interesting puzzles. The 3D segments are all about making use of physical objects to solve environmental puzzles, with most of these requiring you to cast a shadow in such a way that your own shadow is able to navigate the space. Aside from creating paths for your shadow, a lot of the puzzles in Iris.Fall are generally quite simple as most can be solved with a bit of trial and error, where all you really need to do is find the combination that works. Early on there is a very cool puzzle where your shadow must walk through some paintings. The puzzle design is strong, with many of the game’s achievements encouraging players to solve it on their first attempt.
When all is said and done, Iris.Fall on Xbox is over in a flash and doesn’t linger in the memory despite some strong ideas. The monochrome graphical presentation alone will turn some heads, and some of the puzzles can be quite interesting. But once you make your way through the adventure and piece together the mystery, then there really isn’t much to come back for.