The game title featuring a mysterious dark silhouette

The Past Within Review

Game: The Past Within
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
System: Nintendo Switch (Also available on Steam (Windows & Linux) and mobile)
Developer|Publisher: Rusty Lake
Age Rating: EU 12 | US E Teen
Price: UK £5.99 | US $5.99 | EU € 5,99
Release Date: July 6th, 2023

Review code provided with many thanks to Game Drive NL. 

A New Approach to Co-op

The Past Within is a point-and-click style game that can only be played with another player playing the game on a different device. But before you single-player fans leave the room, consider sticking around, as this is probably one of the most unique co-op experiences I have had the pleasure of experiencing this year in gaming.

Yes, each player requires a copy of the game, but either player can play on mobile, PC or Switch, and the game does not require an online connection, just the ability to talk to your co-op buddy whether in the same room, over the phone or online. Hopefully, your interest is now perked.

A image of a room 4 pictures are on the wall, a table and chairs can be seen and a gas stove powered by coal
Look carefully for clues.

Simple Instructions

When you boot the game up, you are given simple instructions. First, you choose which player wants to be in the past or future. You then both select a choice of insect from two; the purpose of this stage is to make sure both players are synced to the same puzzles. The game then begins with each player present with a room to explore. Almost like the equivalent of some sort of video game escape room, only there’s no time limit. There are notes to read, drawers to open and various oddities like candles and gems you’ll soon learn the purpose of in time. How the game generally works is one player will see things in the room on their screen, which will help the other player solve theirs. It’s like puzzle table tennis. Once you solve one puzzle, you gain something to help the other player. This includes codes to input, shapes to sort and assistance finding hidden locations on items in the room.

Communication is The Key

Needless to say, progress is impossible without the other player. Communication is also absolutely essential to success. My wife and I shared the game set in the past while we communicated with my friend abroad who was in the future. For the most part, we successfully passed on instructions to each other. The game mostly does a good job of not making things too complex. Passing on number codes and describing pictures is easy enough, but this may vary between players. I will admit there were two times when communication of a puzzle felt too complex, so we shared photos over our phones and even that stumped us for a bit. The developers do advertise the use of their discord if you get stuck. This can also be used to find someone to play the game with if you need a friend.

An image of the main character wearing a creepy mask
How I look most mornings

That Eerie Feeling

The story is kept quite simple and vague. You learn that your father has passed away in the game, and the goal is to essentially bring him back to life through the use of a resurrection machine. To achieve this, it requires the cooperation of your past and future sleeves. That’s all I’m really comfortable sharing, as this is an experience best enjoyed with minimal spoilers. What I will say is the game does include some light horror elements. You will encounter moments that feel pretty eerie and creepy. You’ll see some rather unpleasant images, and the music will shift to something more sinister, but no horrific gore or scenes that will likely cause distress. A teen rating seems to really fit the description. 

A puzzle box featuring all sorts of switches and gizmos. A buttterfly has landed in a open slot
The most complex piggy bank you ever saw


Graphics are mostly hand-drawn, with a moment later in the experience that shifts to a more 3D look. It certainly feels like something where the developers were working with a small budget, but they really nail the atmosphere of the experience. Still, objects of interest are easy to identify. While you feel satisfied solving the puzzles you feel a certain discomfort as you work towards something that feels ungodly. For controls, you can use the controller in TV mode or enjoy touch controls in handheld. The latter feels like the best way to enjoy the game. Interacting with objects and scanning the room feels simple and comfortable. You can spin dials, press buttons and easily drag and drop collected items into points of interest. 

Length of Gameplay

The game is not very long. It only features two chapters which will take around the two-hour mark even on a first playthrough. You can exit and enter again but keep in mind the stars need to align for you and your buddy to pick up where you left off again. This feels like something to finish in a single session, and likely most players will without needing the internet for extra support. There is an incentive to replay again. You can swap over and play the past or present, and you can select one of two insects at the start of the game, which will alter the puzzles presented. Of course, once you have done all that, there is not a lot of reason to return, but it sure is a unique experience presented at a very fair price.

A image of a door with suspicious stained glass images such as a deer head and butterfly
Clues can be anywhere, don’t be afraid to tap/click about

Conclusion: The Indie Innovators

The Past Within was a lovely surprise. I’m not the biggest fan of point-and-click games these days, but by adding a co-op spin and playing with two great fellow gamers, I found myself hooked on the experience. This is exactly what I love about indie developers. While they certainly lack the budget, it’s here where we see innovation in gaming. The Past Within is well worth purchasing, even if you must buy an extra copy for a friend to experience. While the experience is short, it will likely stay in your gaming memories for many years to come. 

Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot

I like it a lot

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