Iris.Fall is a beautiful game that evokes the imagery of films like Coraline and 9, while crafting a story that feels like it's straight out of a Lewis Carroll novel. It's a gorgeous, intriguing game that's overflowing with ambiance, where you direct a young girl through a world of light and shadow, solving puzzles. The game is a visual knockout, but is there more to it than a pretty façade?
Story & Flow
The game begins with a quiet, wordless story playing out as you, a nameless girl (presumably Iris?), follow a strange cat through a series of shadow puzzles. Moving through creepy rooms, story books, theater stages, and libraries, you utilize shadows and light to solve the various puzzles you encounter. Light shining on walls will give you the ability to create and use shadows by manipulating real-world objects to open paths while swapping in and out of a shadow form by using a strange book, all the while guided by a mysterious black cat.
Now, when I dug into this game, I was expecting an experience like Contrast or even Limbo. What I got was more like an art house version of Professor Layton. At the beginning and end of the game, you'll do shadow and light puzzles almost exclusively, manipulating the environment to further progress through the game. The middle, however, is a series of slider and light puzzles that seem to have no connection to the story.
That's probably the game's biggest downfall; much like Professor Layton, the puzzles you solve rarely seem to be connected to the story. Sure, the shadow parts feel connected because you're moving through the world, but everything else pulls you away from the beautiful art and aesthetics to look at tiles on a table or maybe turn a cube. It almost feels like the puzzles were made by two different groups, one playing off the world and the aesthetics of the theater and the other just dressing up slider puzzles. It can make things feel unfortunately disjointed and unconnected.
Another issue with the puzzles is the direction. More often than not, you're dropped into a puzzle with no explanation or context. You'll need to fail a few times just to understand what your options are, which can turn to frustration quite quickly. There's no dialogue and no text; just the occasional shadows demonstrating what not to do. If you like figuring out what you're supposed to do without any hand-holding, this isn't a huge issue, but be aware that the game tells you little to nothing. There were at least a few puzzles I solved completely by accident, and I had no idea why what I did worked. However, when I wasn't completely baffled, there is a good amount of puzzles that will make you feel clever when you unwind the strange, convoluted rules of their puzzle and actually manage to solve it.
After the puzzles, the story is the next thing with little to no context. If you like vague, artsy games, again, this is fine. If you want to know exactly what's going on and what the motivations of the characters are... maybe look elsewhere. Iris.Fall plays out silently and with almost no context. You're a little girl in a strange world following a cat, which gives off some real serious Alice in Wonderland vibes, but nothing to really tell you who you are, what you're doing, or why you're doing it. I will say the end is a little obvious (no spoilers) but even then, I still couldn't really tell you what it all meant.
Graphics & Sound
This game is gorgeous. I'm a huge fan of the art style and it plays well here. So much of the game relies on the backgrounds shifting and moving, manipulating your environment, and the game's art makes it all work perfectly. From the quasi-steam punk automatons to the Alice-like story book, it's all so beautiful and feels alive, like a twisted dream. The game plays mostly in black-and-white, using color sparsely and prudently; when it's there, it's there for a reason.
Furthermore, the music is perfect. Creepy enough to set the tone for the world, but intriguing enough to make you want to push forward. It blends well with the atmosphere, giving the entire work a dreamy feel.