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Freeware Review - Fixation

Fixation is a narrative 2D puzzle platformer by developer 2DArray, the prequel to their well-received The Company of Myself.  I was surprised by how much I liked this game.  The controls are smooth, the puzzles are interesting, the animation is fluid, the music is compelling, and the there is a well told, heartfelt story full of characters you really care about.  In short: don’t be fooled by its choice of platform - this is a genuinely great game that deserves to be played and talked about as much as any retail release.

The story is excellent, one of the better explicit game stories I’ve played through in a while.  You play as Kathyrn, a young woman with pink overalls, a persistent smoking habit, and some issues to work through.  You begin the game in a psychiatrist’s office, on the advice of your best friend and roommate, but you’re not quite ready to do the work the Doctor recommends, so you set off on your own.  The atmosphere is a bit surreal, and the story plays out more metaphorically than literally, as though what we are playing through is Kathryn’s memories, her dreams, or just her brain trying to work things out.  This is all but spelled out in the game when the psychiatrist tells you that the laser traps in a level can’t hurt him because they are merely internal problems for Kathryn.

All of the characters you meet in the game are incredibly well developed and likable (with the exception of one tool who was definitely not supposed to be liked).  They are well-rounded and genuine, and you truly care about their stories.  There are no good guys or bad guys, but rather real people trying to get along as best they can.  This is a story of friendship and self acceptance, and I loved every minute of it.

The gameplay takes the form of a puzzle platformer.  You start with the standard WASD set-up (but with a very nice double jump), and you just need to make it to the other side of the screen.  Very quickly, though, the game starts tossing new challenges at you.  Kathryn’s smoking is not just a part of the narrative, but plays a major role in the gameplay, too.  With the mouse, she can blow a stream of smoke in any direction, and can also, with good timing, blow a targeted smoke ring.  You will use these skills to block lasers, flip switches, and rotate laser turrets. 

The puzzles get increasingly complex as the game goes on, but only a few are overly difficult.  You will need to ricochet smoke rings at precise angles and be ready to move through doors that are only open for a second or two.  Sometimes there are switches and buttons that Kathryn can’t push, but someone else can, changing the focus from getting to the end to getting a companion safely to a switch.  All of this works really well, and nearly every puzzle is fun and satisfying to solve.  Near the end, things feel like they are repeating a bit, and the puzzles threaten to become stale, but just then the game ends, right where it should.

All of this is wrapped up in a very pretty presentation.  The environments are detailed and for the most part lovely, though certain areas are much prettier than others.  The sprites are only average looking, but the animation is great, especially that of the main character.  Kathryn’s double jump looks great, with her hair falling realistically above her, and the way the smoke coils and bunches up is surprisingly authentic.  The music is excellent, too.  Composed by David Carney, the piano-heavy soundtrack perfectly fits the mood of each level, especially “The Meadow.”  It is somber and sweet, and works great as accompaniment for the story.

There is really no reason not to go play this game right now.  It will only take you about 30 minutes or so, and it’s absolutely free.  I recommend playing it all the way through in one sitting, in part because the narrative works best that way, and also because there seems to be a glitch that prevents the game from loading save data.  Not everyone experiences this, but I did, so fair warning.  Fixation is touching and challenging, and deserves to be experienced.  You can play it in your browser here.