I’ve got to admit this now: I’m not especially great at puzzles, including puzzle platformers. I tend to prefer having a giant gun that I can use to solve all my problems with violence. Throw a game in front of me where some actual brainpower is required and watch me slowly wither in to a mount of dust. It’s gross. Sym, a monocromatic puzzle platformer from Mastertronic, is one of those thinky games, and it made my head hurt so I had to go smash something after playing. I’m a renaissance man, y’see.
Sym is all about switching between light and dark planes in order to progress through each level. When you come across a foe that’s going to have you for lunch or an obstacle you just can’t cross, the answer usually involves switching to the other “side” of the level. There’s also switches and such that affect either side of the level that you’ll have to run around and hit in true puzzle platformer fashion. There are no rocket launchers to be found here. Alas.
The plot, per the Steam page, “explores social anxiety disorder” – in practice, this means that there’s text all over the place describing the struggles of the protagonist Josh in dealing with other people while you make your way through the puzzles. This actually comes into play in the gameplay as well – you’re switching from white to black to hide from others, for instance, and from black to white when it becomes necessary to do so to progress. Even the level design incorporates this theme, with eye-shaped platforms representing others’ gaze.
Sym’s monochrome graphics are certainly interesting, but we’ve seen similarly striking indie games with this aesthetic in recent memory like Limbo, The Bridge and most recently Parallax. This one stands out by going for a sort of sketch-based deal where the graphics are jagged and shifty, suggesting that the game’s animation is hand-drawn. It’s never that difficult to tell where anything is or what’s going on, so the graphics are certainly functional, and given the plane-shifting gameplay mechanic it’s kind of vital that things look like they do.
If you’re hurting for an indie puzzle platformer, Sym isn’t a terrible choice. I’d be amazed that you were hurting for one, since indies love making puzzle platformers and crank them out at a rate of several per minute, but there you have it! In any case, Sym’s interesting graphical style and unique plot help it stand out in this extremely overcrowded genre, even if the gameplay isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.