We all love Portal, right? We love its daft humour, its impressive script and its wonderful puzzles. It’s highly likely that developer Pillow Castle Games also loves Portal, as evidenced by the demo of Superliminal.
Superliminal is a first-person puzzle game, but it has a unique and extremely clever idea at its core. It’s all about size and perspective. A tiny object can be made huge, simply by changing your perspective. It’s very difficult to explain, if I’m perfectly honest, but I’ll try.
The game teaches you intelligently, rather than giving you a straightforward tutorial. You’ll find a table with chess pieces on it, and be encouraged to pick them up. Maybe you’ll look around and drop them elsewhere, which will likely change their size. Exit that room and you’ll be confronted with a giant chess piece blocking your way, but you can pick it up. Seems impossible when you first stumble across this obstacle, but you’ll naturally begin trying to move it out of the way. Pick it up from metres away and you’ll find that you can drop it at your feet, dramatically reducing its size.
Alright, that wasn’t great was it? Let’s try again. Imagine you’re holding a tennis ball: if you close one eye and hold the ball up, it might look like it’s the same size as your front door. Only in Superliminal, dropping the tennis ball when it looks as big as a door, will make it as big as the door. So, one puzzle will give you a door that’s too high to reach, but there are blocks all around you. Pick one up and you can make it big enough to become a step up, perhaps grabbing a few of them to create an actual stairway up to the door, allowing you to exit to the next puzzle area. All done by picking them up and dropping them at the right perspective angle.
This is where it becomes quite Portal-like, albeit with a dash of The Stanley Parable. It seems as though you’re in some kind of testing facility, designed to test the application of this perspective-based size theory. At times during the demo, I ended up in some corridors behind the scenes, which hints that something isn’t quite right with this place.
There isn’t really anything story-wise in the demo, only a voice that occasionally chimes in to tell you something about where you are and what you’re doing. Even then, you’re told very little. You’re in some kind of surreal dream world, and this facility is part of that, which makes me suspect the aim of the full game will be to discover how to escape.
There is a lot of potential in Superliminal, both in its puzzles and in its story. The size changing is a great idea, one that needs to be seen to really grasp its impressiveness, though at times it does seem a little inconsistent in how you achieve the desired change. It isn’t always linear either, as multiple objects within a room can be used to discover the way to the exit. You can use a chess piece as a ramp, or build a set of stairs with blocks, and each one will achieve the same result as you exit the room and move on to the next fiendish puzzle.
The demo was only around twelve minutes long, maybe less, but it points to Superliminal being an interesting and challenging puzzle game. Will it have the same impact as games like Portal and The Stanley Parable? Who knows. But there is something intriguing about its setup and the environmental storytelling is already hinting at a bigger picture, and hopefully that picture will be expanded upon with dialogue in the full game.
As it stands, Superliminal has an excellent and ingenious core idea, and I’m very interested to see how that idea is expanded into a complete game.