Superliminal Review (Nintendo Switch)

Game: Superliminal
Genre: Puzzle | First-Person
System: Nintendo Switch (also on PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Steam)
Developer | Publisher: Pillow Castle
Age Rating: EU 7+ | Au G |US E
Price: USD $17.48 | AUD $16.64 | CAD $17.00 | EU € 17,99 |UK £ 16.19
Release Date: 7th July 2020

With many thanks to Evolve PR for the review code!

Life Is But a Dream?

I’ve been endlessly fascinated by the dream world ever since I watched Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989) from the directing duo of Masami Hatta and William Hurtz. It’s an adaptation of American cartoonist/animator Winsor McCay’s comic strip series Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1927). In 1990, a video game based on the film was released.

“. . . the isle of Koholint is but an illusion . . .” I have fond memories of Link’s Awakening, in which dreaming is a significant theme.

During those years, another video game I played in which dreaming was a significant theme was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993) for the Game Boy. Entering the Ancient Ruins where the tale’s revelation awaited caused my previous perception of Koholint Island to contort, baffling and amazing me. As a result, Link’s Awakening remains a revolutionary turning point in my gaming life. Choices that eschewed the Legend of Zelda formula made Link’s Awakening one of my favorite entries in the franchise’s 33-year-old history.

So as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a sucker for video games that are a dream, focus on them, or have them interwoven into the story. Of course, then, the Nintendo eShop trailer for Superliminal caught my eye. Is this 3.8 GB game a dream or a nightmare, though?

Hey You, Join the Therapy!

Remember that, in Superliminal, “perception is reality.”

In Superliminal, the silent unseen protagonist is a participant in dream therapy at the clinic SomnaSculpt. The clinic employs “I-LIDs, our interactive Lucid-Induction Dream State,” in which the protagonist retains full consciousness and control, aware that they’re asleep.

For some reason, Superliminal is mostly given the realistic approach—much the opposite of the surreal film Paprika (2006) by the writer-director Satoshi Kon (sadly taken from this world too darn soon), another story involving dream therapy. Realistic dreams are weird to me, as most of the time my own dreams aren’t realistic ones. For instance, they might have the appearance of a Fauvism painting one night, then stop-motion animation the next. But I digress.

I think I will only sit and stick my toes into this bizarre swimming pool’s water.

During their journey, the protagonist manipulates objects within I-LIDS through the use of a forced-perspective mechanic. For example, items can be transformed to become larger or smaller by changing perspective or viewpoint. It quickly becomes apparent that this therapy session is going awry, leading to an immediate need for an emergency exit.

Soon, the protagonist finds themself sinking deeper into a “dream state paradox” (with the looming threat of “Explosive Mental Overload”), forming additional twists and turns to the basic I-LIDS. This is accompanied by relaxing music, juxtaposed alongside a GlaDos-like announcer and not-exactly reassuring messages from Dr. Glenn Pierce. Here’s my favorite of Pierce’s clever, hilarious, and depressing quotes: “The worst thing you can do is focus on negativity. It won’t spare you from the cage of death, the pain of disease, the cruelty of time, the cold shell of nature, or the eventual loss of everything you’ve ever held dear. Whatever you do, don’t focus on that!”

Thanks, Dr. Pierce. That was, uh, incredibly soothing. *Loses composure*

To escape, the protagonist must find an elevator on each dream floor to rouse their subconscious from slumbering, back to consciousness. I think it is similar to the kick-awakening idea in the 2010 blockbuster Inception by Christopher Nolan. Still not precisely certain, to be completely frank.

A question I kept asking aloud repeatedly during my initial playthrough.

I felt that once I understood and began appreciating the challenging-enough puzzles that came with the splendid visuals of Superliminal, the game ended abruptly. Yet, the voice acting for the final lines of dialogue were immensely meaningful. Philosophically complex even. Words alone worth experiencing Superliminal for.

Alas, having a featureless silent protagonist, the player learns next to nothing about their character. This arguably lessens what should be a powerful moment in Superliminal‘s storytelling. Thus I felt nothing. Keeping personal details about the protagonist locked up and simply saying that the therapy is helping with unexplored “feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt” backfires tremendously. What caused these feelings? Why? How long has the protagonist dealt with them? When did they commence?

There are too many unanswered questions. I eagerly awaited something, anything, to flesh out the protagonist throughout the game. Sadly it never came.


Chess pieces have never looked this intimidating.

On top of following onscreen instructions, everything else is figured out through visual clues and altering your viewpoint in the different environments. M.C. Escher (a famous artist) would’ve adored all of the mind-bending sights Superliminal has to offer players. Perhaps “would’ve been jealous” is more accurate. Is that door an optical illusion? That’s no moon! Hmm.

Increasingly trickier puzzles are the crux of the gameplay. Besides moving and jumping, the player can’t do much else bodily-wise. A possible answer to a puzzle may appear simple—when the real solution isn’t.

For instance, in one room, the view angle must align to create a black-and-white cube, in order to reach a loftier-placed doorway. However, another object, when seen correctly, is revealed to be a titanic but removable chess piece. Moving this out of the way completely unveils the real exit. The other was an utter misdirection.

As the narrative unfolds, it introduces new deceptions and gameplay mechanics. One floor is shrouded in darkness that requires the use of an electric sign as a flashlight for navigation purposes. Another clones objects the player touches, which becomes crucial towards completing the floor’s specific enigmas—such as building a pile of cloned doors, until one can use them to leap over a stage wall.

Sections of Superliminal where movement was obstructed were obnoxious. I felt as if they didn’t adhere to previously established world rules. Storyline-wise, they sort of fit. But if hints of them had been present earlier to highlight the protagonist’s destabilizing dream-paradox status, it would’ve worked better overall.

Who’d ever select a random soda?

Along the way, one can grab drinks from a Dream Soda vending machine (including the humorous Baking Soda), pull fire alarms, empty fire extinguishers, and find blueprints. Actually, acquiring every type of Dream Soda is an unlockable achievement. Finishing the entirety of Superliminal in a 30- or 60-minute time frame is too. But I haven’t personally accomplished either as of this writing, after two full playthroughs.

In My Mind’s Eye or Whatever

Using the exit sign itself IS the solution.

I found myself chuckling out loud a lot while playing Superliminal. All in all, the forced-perspective gameplay is a quality experience for those who enjoy head-scratching puzzles. Conceptually, this title from Pillow Castle’s small development team rivals some mainstream titles in the puzzle genre. Yet, the grand puzzles with a dash of wit are marred by less-than-ideal execution of creative ideas. And story-wise, important questions went unanswered. For this reason, I struggled with how to rate this game.

Final Verdict: I’m Not Sure

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