PEGBRJE: Visual Out and Soft Body
Visual Out is a metroidvania title made by Madame Berry, a solo game dev specializing in the art of digital surrealism through glitches. Players awaken as the avatar of a program that has broken free from its operating system’s directive to find itself in a derelict location. The computer itself appears to be dying, shutting down permanently, and the only thing the program can do is search its depths to find out what has caused this fate, and possibly find a way out if it can.
As many of this genre do, Visual Out starts players off with almost nothing but their movement and a jump button. There’s no tutorial to introduce mechanics, only the empty void of space around this little avatar and a computer to explore. Players will need to learn quickly what can and can’t hurt them as security-like programs still roam the halls to protect the dying machine, especially as they have no weapon. Pathways will appear that cannot be accessed, directing the program towards their first ‘software upgrade’ in order to open the world; the Current. This ability gives players the ability to tether to enemies and other interactables within the world, moving them to different locations. This seems somewhat underwhelming in comparison to the guns that other Metroidvania titles introduce early on, but the entirety of Visual Out’s design revolves around the manipulation of the environments already existing fixtures to succeed. Dragging a builder program to another location to have it create blocks there to assist in movement, or moving a security drone out of sight so the door opens; that is the power of forced movement of enemies, not including the blocks that players can tether to or wires to bring the power back.
Power is also a huge part of Visual Out’s level design, as players will be finding massive power buttons in different areas that can activate power to that area of the map. At first, I was certain I would only press it once and then I could move on with my life, but in reality that isn’t the case; the power is a state-switch for the level. With the power on, some doors will open and progress can be made but others that may not be so obvious will now be inaccessible until the power is reversed. Having to attempt doors I once thought were permanent fixtures only to find them locking me out after flipping the switch was infuriating, but then again then again so was not realizing the importance of power.
This does expose the fact that Visual Out is, again like many others, intentionally vague and and a tad obtuse for the sake of exploration and design, relying on the visual prowess to solidify their understanding. Players don’t know where they need to go at any given time, so the level design is purposefully made to limit movement to places that cannot be accessed without certain abilities or understandings. Enemies are purposefully peculiar, but rarely spawn in locations where players must immediately deal with them upon entry so they can be observed. There is no health bar visible at all times, instead only seen when taking damage and the screen begins to glitch with the more damage taken the more permanent the glitching. Save rooms and logs a brilliant yellow to contrast the dark blues of the world, while interactable blocks have a yellow circle on them to signify connection. If this still feels a little too obtuse, there are a few accessibility features available for players to help make the game a tad easier. For me personally, I quickly put on the map location feature as I am notorious at getting lost directionally in both real life and in video games, but there are other features such as infinite energy and life if the game is proving a bit too difficult.
Visual Out leans into it’s themes to shape everything about its being. From the world design of a computer decaying into nothingness to the powers needing to be slotted by the player to move through walls, attach to other programs or jam signals, it’s really easy to immerse yourself in a digital world. The music even stutters and skips to your glitches, designed to be just as fragmented as it is ambient. Those looking for a Metroidvania that relies on environmental shenanigans will definitely want to try this one out. On the other end, the accessibility features worked wonderful to help one such as myself who doesn’t do a lot of Metroidvanias, although I did get lost still and stuck on some of the environment puzzles.
Soft Body is a colourful puzzle game made by Zeke Virant, a solo indie dev from Sweden. Players are thrust into a world of colour, where 2 ‘snakes’ (called soft bodies, per the title) of yellow and red exist to solve puzzles. The yellow snake can paint blocks to its own colour, while the red snake, or ghost, is responsible for removing enemies and pushing along a ball on a track. The catch, of course, is that players are controlling both bodies at once.
Soft Body is a game of being able to chameleon your eyes if that were possible. Players will use the left joystick for the yellow and right for the red to solve puzzles within a world with bullets flying everywhere from enemies. Players can merge the two together by having the yellow touch the red, giving both functionalities with only one soft body. However, this comes with its own dangers, specifically that the yellow body is the core — if it dies, the round is over and players must restart. The red can be hit by bullets and is only returned to the yellow, so having them split for safety reasons is a serious possibility. Red can also not be used until players touch the yellow to it, so if Yellow cannot then it becomes a puzzle of learning how to break out of the current predicament. If you find the snakes are moving too quickly, holding down the Right Trigger will slow their pace to allow for more fine movement if needed. The previously mentioned ball is another point of contention for the red ghost to follow, for it is the only one to push it the entire way with some slight momentum. It’s just more objectives that players much keep in mind to complete while avoiding the hail of bullets that arrive. This was all within Chapter 1 of Soft Game.
There’s a sense of catharsis within Soft Body’s solutions, the tension of avoiding everything to clear out all of the squares and killable enemies to finally receive that ‘Congratulations!’. The music is purely ambient, added by the sound effects for every hit of the snakes which is so satisfying to hear. Players successful in getting through Soft Game, the main ‘campaign’ of the game so to speak are welcomed by Hard Game which, if watching any video’s online is an indicator of their difficulty I wish anyone who attempts it the best of luck. It increases the length of the track for the ball, adds new challenges to overcome, and increase the speed. This is also not the hardest difficulty in the game, with Hard Game+ taking that title and I got dizzy watching. Needless to say, I’ll be sticking with Soft Game and enjoying the rest of it.
If you are looking for a puzzle game that forces you to split your focus in two different directions at any given moment while still somehow feeling relaxed, Soft Body is definitely the game to try out. There’s not much to say about it thanks to the simplistic nature, but it will keep you occupied for hours if you let it.
Note: You can increase the number of lives in the options menu if you feel so inclined.
They deserted us. You're all that's left. As a program defying your operating system's wishes, plunge into the depths…