Critical Play: Superliminal

I wanted to play Superliminal because I was intrigued by the use of perspective and optical illusions for puzzles. I have enjoyed 2D optical illusion brain teasers in the past, and it was really interesting to see how adding a third dimension can make the optical illusions even more interesting.

The game opens with a fun TV commercial for a sleep study, and you soon realize that you are immersed in a dream. With radio messages from “doctors,” you’re immediately forced to follow a hallway and enter a room with various objects of unusual size (huge alphabet cubes, various chess pieces). I liked how there were some instructions on how the mechanics worked at the beginning without giving away too much immediately. For example, as you move down the first hallway, a box that says “Spacebar to jump” is taped to the side of a cardboard box – this clue doesn’t stick out immediately (I actually missed it for the first couple minutes), but I really liked how the starting hints/instructions were embedded into the game environment. Dreams don’t ever tell you anything super directly, so by having game mechanics embedded into the environment and ambiguous, sort of spooky voices give clues, players can understand how to play while not being removed from the game experience.

I ended up completing two levels during game play, and I liked how they focused on different types of optical mechanics in the various puzzles. All of the puzzles rely on pretty much two basic mechanisms – picking up objects and moving around to change your view of the scene. When you pick up objects, their size is dependent on your perspective – if you are really far from an object and you pick it up and move it, it remains the same size as when you picked it up (a little hard to explain). For example, I figured out that to make objects larger, you can repeatedly pick up an object that is close to you, put it down far from you, move closer to pick it up again, and place it farther away. The first level used a lot of this type of manipulation for their puzzle mechanics. The second level focused a bit more on optical perspective, where you had to position your view in a specific way for pieces to align for an object to actually appear. While I did not play further, I really liked how the levels focused on different illusions, and it made it feel like you were sinking deeper and deeper into a dream state.

The design of the puzzle pieces (from using apples instead of regular dots on the dice to weird checkered boxes) was very aesthetically pleasing, and in combination with the ridiculous proportions of the pieces, resulted in a very fun and surreal environment. This attention to detail was a very successful mechanic that made me want to keep playing, since the aesthetics of each level also shifted, making you feel like you’re jumping through different dreams.

In a more general sense, the way the environment is architected also supports the “dream” environment. There is very ambient “elevator” music that keeps you engaged, but isn’t too distracting, and you are lead through the levels by having to wander long hallways and find the correct rooms where the puzzles are located. By having to blindly navigate long hallways, often littered with other fun optical illusions (these are not important to solving puzzles, but fun bonuses), it really made me feel like I was trying to escape/explore a dream. I’m going to keep playing the game and am excited to see what other dream environments are created!

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