Shady Part of Me Review – In the Shadow of Indie Giants
Shady Part of MeDecember 10, 2020
2020 has been a solid year for indie puzzle platformers, with games like Creaks, Evergate, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps delivering beautiful worlds and satisfying brainteasers. Ah, but there’s one more surprise entrant to consider before you make up your “Best Puzzle Platformers of 2020” list! Last week during The Game Awards, Focus Home Interactive and freshman French developer Douze Dixièmes stealth dropped Shady Part of Me, a new platformer in which you play as an intrepid young girl and her shadow.
Shady Part of Me obviously takes inspiration from many of the great indie platformers of the past decade-or-so, but is it more than the sum of its rather familiar parts? Or is it merely a pale imitation of games like Braid, Limbo, and Contrast? It’s time to peer into these shadows and see what they hide…
As mentioned, Shady Part of Me casts players as a young girl who is deathly afraid of light, and her living shadow, which, by its nature, needs light to exist. It’s a clever contrast, that serves the game’s story and level design fairly well. You begin in what appears to be a psychiatric hospital, before moving onto a variety of other locations, some semi-grounded (a library, sewers, etc.), some more dreamlike and fantastical (sandy ruins, a creepy carnival). As you progress, the girl and her shadow discuss their journey, bits of text that reflect their doubts appear superimposed on the environment, and eventually, snippets of dialogue from somebody who sounds like a therapist can be heard.
So yes, this is another one of those indie titles that uses platformer tropes as a metaphor for therapy and self-improvement. As I’ve said before, mental health is an important subject, and I don’t doubt the makers of games like Shady Part of Me are earnest in their intentions, but this has been done before (and better) by many other games. A lot of lines are borderline cliché, with the game’s devs literally writing what they’re trying to represent on the walls and surfaces of their levels (“patience,” “you’re not alone,” “Am I good enough?”). It’s not subtle. The game does draw you in somewhat as it hints at the source of its characters’ trauma, and toys with the question of whose perspective this story is being told from, but ultimately, don’t expect any clear or satisfying answers. Shady Part of Me keeps its storytelling vague and noncommittal.
Mercifully, the gameplay isn’t as wishy-washy as the story. You can freely switch between the girl, who can move around in 3D space, but can’t jump or enter the illuminated areas, and her shadow, who’s an able platformer, but is restricted to shadows projected on walls and other surfaces. Most of the game’s puzzles revolve around the girl manipulating objects (boxes, platforms, etc.) in order to create shadow paths her doppelganger can traverse. The shadow can also occasionally flip switches that alter certain elements in each level, providing the girl a darkened path forward. The game is divided up into short sections and you need to get the girl and her shadow to the end of each one in order to progress.
Shady Part of Me’s mechanics are solid, but like so much about this game, they aren’t terribly original. A number of other platformers have allowed players to tinker around with shadows, with Compulsion Games’ 2013 game Contrast featuring an almost identical setup. The game also has a time rewind feature very much like Braid, and of course, it’s dark tone and shadowy child protagonists bring to mind Limbo and Little Nightmares. If you’re into indie games, it’s pretty hard to escape the feeling you’ve played variations of this game many times before.
Thankfully, Shady Part of Me’s puzzle design is above average, particularly later on when the game starts doing things like playing with multiple light sources or freeing your shadow from the bounds of normal gravity, allowing her to run around on shady surfaces vertically, upside down, or in circles. The game even includes a simple boss fight at one point. While Shady Part of Me has a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe, the game did occasionally manage to surprise me.
Shady Part of Me isn’t exactly a technical showcase, but its levels are visually varied, your shadow is well animated, and her 2D world is nice and sharp. The game’s soundtrack sets the right tone with a mix of French pop and more melancholy melodies, and voice acting is surprisingly solid (your shadow is portrayed by Hannah Murray, who played Gilly on Game of Thrones).
Despite being rather derivative, Shady Part of Me did start to grow on me, but just as the game was starting to get into a satisfying, challenging flow…it abruptly ended. You can complete this game in around 2 to 3 hours if you’re a real puzzle master, although most will likely take somewhere in the 4-to-5-hour range. There are also a number of hidden origami birds to collect, but even with that, this game’s shadow isn’t likely to extend past a single weekend.
This review was based on a PS4 copy of Shady Part of Me provided by publisher Focus Home Interactive. You can grab the title at a discount from Green Man Gaming.
Shady Part of Me is a decent puzzle platformer, which offers some inventive challenges and an overall polished presentation. That said, almost everything about the game, including its story, aesthetic, and core mechanics, are lifted wholesale from more memorable indie games like Braid, Limbo, Little Nightmares, and Contrast. Like a shadow cast upon your bedroom wall, Shady Part of Me may be fleetingly interesting, but it won’t leave a lasting impression.
- Crisp, varied visuals
- Some clever puzzles
- Properly moody score
- Professional voice acting
- Story has been done
- Gameplay has also been done
- Won’t last you very long