Shining a light on Schein [Preview]
November 16, 2012
Schein is shaping up to be an interesting platformer. It plays something like a spiritual successor to Limbo, but saying that isn’t quite enough to do it justice. The mingling of its bleak atmosphere with the use of colored lights creates this contrast that just makes the game stand out. Those colored lights are looking like they’ll make for some pretty devious puzzles too, as I had to stop more than once to think about what to do next. It wasn’t all mind games, either, as I spent a lot of time hurtling off of cliffs and into the murky swamp water. I see a lot of good, solid work and gameplay in the demo, and I just can’t wait for the full version to come out in 2013.
The game takes place in a bleak swamp, a world filled with depressing grey on every surface. It’s here that the game looks closest to Limbo, but with a flick of a button you can turn on the light of a friendly wil-o-wisp that you carry with you. In that light everything looks lush and happy, your character’s demeanor changing a long with the added color. Instead of your usual frowning, depressed face you’re greeted with a smiling version of yourself. The swamp itself gets filled with life as well, with grown plants and new places showing up in the circle of light around you.
It was a really cool effect, especially when I picked up a red light later in the level and was greeted with a hellish version of the same reality. The world changed to look like it was infused with magma and fire, and my own character became demonic. I didn’t get to see as much of the red light since it only showed up near the end of the demo, but it was still enough to make me really excited to see what else they do with different colored lights in the full version.
The lights do more than just make changes to how the game looks, since they’re a major part of the gameplay. The game would be a very standard platformer if it weren’t for lights, as they reveal things that only show up in that light, for good or bad. Having the basic light on made platforms appear over a lot of the cliffs that looked impassable at the start, and it also revealed mechanisms that would start running once the light hit them. Many of these were used to move platforms around and shuffle me to other places; but a cool trick was that the mechanisms only worked when the light was on them, making for some interesting timed sections.
The fact that things stop existing in the game outside the light can work for and against you in other ways, too. I ran into a few spiked plants that only showed up when my basic light was on and had to shut it off to avoid being killed. A few minutes later and I was standing on a platform that only existed when my light was on, but it also created spikes on the platform that I had to jump to. I had to jump from my platform and flick the light off in mid-air to land safely, something that added an element of reflexes and timing I didn’t really expect for light puzzles. Other times I didn’t have a red light to carry around for myself yet and had to wait for creatures in the environment that made that light to float nearby in order to keep moving. It was like a moving platform in any other platforming game, but the way it was presented made it seem fresh and new.
It took a little bit of time for me to wrap my head around the fact that the platforms were gone when the light wasn’t touching them. It made the game a bit harder than it probably should have been, but it was my own fault. Then again, I bet it will happen to other players as well. When I saw half of a platform being lit up by a light from one of the creatures, my brain would try to tell me that the rest of the platform was there but just out of sight. It made for some dumb accidents as I walked off an edge that didn’t exist in the game yet, but it was nothing that made me mad. I’m not used to my own mind making a game more difficult, so I thought this was a cool side effect; intentional or not.
Another aspect that made the lights more interesting was in how it encouraged the player to poke around the environment a bit. A lot of the mechanisms and objects you needed to get through the level were in plain sight during the demo, but there were a handful of them that were out of the way. I had to flip between different colored lights in different spots to figure out what was expected of me next, so it added another fun little layer of exploration. I can see the developers adding some sneaky secrets throughout the game using this mechanic.
I only heard one song during the demo, but it definitely piqued my interest. It was a very faint, eerie tune that gave the surroundings a sense of danger. Being able to drown in the water also made the place feel dangerous, but the music made me feel more immersed in the environment. It played havoc with my nerves, and I was honestly expecting something to come surging out of the still waters at any point. That really clinched the game for me, turning it into a complete package that I’m dying to try out.
I was surprised at how many times I managed to dump myself into the gray water or impaled myself on a thorn bush. It wasn’t as unsettling and graphic as Limbo when I died, though, but that sort of violence wouldn’t work with the art style. The extreme violence fit in with the surreal landscape of Limbo, but it wouldn’t fit in with the almost-cartoonish protagonist. Given the somber nature of the game I’m not totally sure if the protagonist’s model is appropriate for the rest of the game in that regard, though, but as I said I still do like its current art direction. The cartoonish main character also helps separate it from the Limbo comparisons I’m constantly making about it, so that’s a point in its favor. We’ll have to see what comes of it, though.
The demo is pretty short, so it won’t take you long to figure out if it’s the kind of game you’d like to play. That being said, don’t expect to breeze through it, as I died quite a few times despite the simple mechanics at work. Many of the mistakes were my own fault from playing around in the world to see what I could do, but the game can be challenging at times. It has a checkpoint system that doesn’t cut the world up into small pieces, but rather forces you to play through some Mega Man-sized chunks before you get to the next save spot. Nothing I played through was so hard that I felt very set back when I died, but I can see this system putting players through the wringer in harder stages.
Other than some questions about the character design I loved pretty much everything about Schein and can see tons of promise in its future release. If you’re into moody platformers with a lot of personality I think you’ll enjoy it too, and I can’t recommend the demo enough. I will be following these guys closely as the game comes together, and I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with it next.