Published on September 1st, 2016 | by Marcus Garrett0
Four Sided Fantasy: A puzzle game without borders
Puzzle platformers are my bread and butter. I love the mix of problem solving and technical finger skills. Four Sided Fantasy heralds itself as being similar to puzzle game classics like Braid and Portal. It is apparent from the first level that these comparisons are justified. With such big shoes to fill, does Four Side Fantasy earn a place alongside its influences?
Four Sided Fantasy is a persistently clever game about what I presume are two lovers’ journey to find each other. In this 2D side scrolling puzzle game by developer Ludo Lands, when you lock the camera and walk off the screen as one character, you reappear on the opposite side of the screen as the other. This screen wrapping mechanic, as made famous by Pac Man, provides for some excellent thought-provoking puzzles. The game’s beautifully stylized 2D art ushers you through four seasons of levels filled with breezy trees, crystalized mountains, glowing constellations and more, all painted with a soft color palette.
The winter levels feature my favorite puzzle set of the game. In this icy landscape, screen wrapping causes your avatar to switch from the foreground to the background reminiscent of some of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games like Super Mario 3D Land and Kirby: Triple Deluxe. I expected the difficulty to considerably ramp up at this point because of the very literal extra layer of depth. Unfortunately, foreground to background jumping worked against the game’s difficulty curve as paths were more plainly laid out.
It is easy to draw comparisons to the Portal series because the main problem-solving method involves “teleporting” from one part of the screen to the other. While this simple mechanic makes for a medley of creative puzzle options, the 2D perspective limits the complexity of the challenges which dilutes the difficulty overall. The solution to even the hardest trials were always a jump away and I would often accidentally stumble onto the answer by sheer virtue of the limited screen room to actually experiment with.
Similarly, Four Sided Fantasy will draw comparisons to indie darling Braid for its art style and creative take on platforming. Whereas Braid is also known for its captivating story that drives the whole campaign, there isn’t much of a narrative in Four Sided Fantasy. I can tell that the developers created lore for the mysterious world they built, but without a narrator, dialogue, or fleshed out environmental storytelling, it was almost entirely lost on me.
Without any motivation or context as to why I was traversing through the world the only thing compelling me forward was the hope that at least a handful of my questions would be addressed. Puzzle platformers don’t need a story to be entertaining. Games like Pushmo feel complete without one and all we need to know about Mario games is that he rescues some poor damsel in each one. But since Four Sided Fantasy clearly wanted to tell a deeper story, I wish they would have leaned into it more.
Four Side Fantasy is a beautiful game that is enjoyable from start to finish. It is a serene experience that offers a healthy challenge without being frustrating. I recommend playing the game right before bed; the lovely music, soft colors, and non-frantic gameplay in the game are ideal for closing out the day much like reading a book. However it fails to replicate the magic of the games that inspired it. If games like The Witness are a Rubik’s Cube then Four Side Fantasy is one of those 3×3 sliding puzzles. It is a decent head-scratcher for the average person, but those seeking a more punishing challenge may look elsewhere.