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Freeware Review - Sequester

Sequester is an indie puzzle platformer with an emotional story and a neat central mechanic.  I’ve talked before about how that description is a kind of “default” place for indie games right now, but also how that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  If the mechanics and story are interesting and well done, those surface similarities won’t matter.  And this game is well done.  Game designer Antony Lavelle (whose game Heir I profiled a while back) explores a really interesting gameplay idea and it is wrapped in great music and a heartfelt, if not overly amazing story.  It’s got issues of course - it takes a few levels before the interesting stuff kicks in, and it seems to last about twice as long as it needs to - but overall it is a solid bit of game design that’s well worth your time.

The central gameplay hook here is that each level takes place on a giant cube, with each screen representing one side of it.  When you run off to the right, you don’t just switch screens, you rotate the whole cube to the left (or, at least, sometimes it’s easier to think of it in that way).  You can do this in all directions, which means you can rotate the level in all directions, such that you can return to the first screen to find that it is “upside-down” from how it was when you started. You can even vaguely see the blurry mirror image of the far side of the cube in the distance as you play, which nicely reinforces the feeling of the level being a real three-dimensional place, rather than just a gimmick.  This idea actually takes a while to fully grasp, but it’s a really interesting mechanic that I don’t think I’ve seen before.  

The game has many standard platforming hazards (spikes, lava), but the focus is rarely on twitchy, pixel-perfect jumping to avoid them.  Rather, it’s usually pretty clear whether you can pass a certain obstacle in your current state, and it’s up to you to figure out how to rotate the world and make it back to that screen to try it from a different angle.  It’s much more a workout for the brain than the fingers, but luckily the controls work nicely anyway.  Later, a new concept is introduced that makes things even more challenging.  There are colored walls of mist that can be turned on and off (making them solid or not) via switches throughout the levels.  Eventually you’ll have to deal with four different colors and a half-dozen different switches and walls in each level.  

All of this really forces you to think and get better about planning your moves, though it also started to get a bit annoying by the end.  Occasionally, the sheer number of switches and walls started to feel a bit like busywork just meant to pad out the game’s length.  And that was not necessary, because the game already feels too long.  It’s not “too long” like 80-hour RPGs are too long (it’s probably only 30-45 minutes total), but it’s too long for what’s actually on offer.  When you have a little flash game with a cool idea, it’s usually best to explore that idea as fully as you can and then get out before you overstay your welcome. This game has about 10 levels worth of solid, interesting ideas, but they’ve been stretched over around 20 levels, and it started to get on my nerves towards the end.  When a player likes your game, but still can’t wait for it to end, that’s when it’s time to take out the scissors and get to cutting.

The story here is that you play a little boy in his dreams, being led around by his older sister who died semi-recently.  She talks to him (through some well-done voice acting) about her life, her death, and also the nature of the place she’s in.  It’s unclear (to her or to the player) if the sister is in purgatory, hell, or just inside the boy’s head.  The actual “story,” as in the A to B plot, is nothing amazing, but there were snippets of emotional dialogue from the sister that conveyed regret and sorrow and the fear of the unknown afterlife, and some of this is really affecting.  It’s a little hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it sometimes hits hard.

This is all told with really nice visuals and music.  The visuals are nice and clean - not flashy, but really polished.  There is this subtle floaty camera movement that should be annoying, but actually ends up working really well to add to the dreamy, uncertain nature of the rest of the game.  The music is really excellent as well.  Moody, gloomy and just plain good, it sets up the story nicely and is just nice to listen to.  Overall, everything came together to form a pretty cohesive vision.  That’s a hard thing to define, but it’s fantastic when it works.

This game is worth a playthrough for the gameplay hook alone.  It’s rare that a free, 2-D platformer can make you think differently about the space in which you play, and that plus the clever puzzles you’ll solve with that perspective is easily interesting enough to carry a game.  But add a gloomy aesthetic and a story that is for once not phoned-in, and Sequester ends up a pretty well-rounded, complete package, if perhaps one that’s twice as long as it should be.  You can play the game in your browser at this link and visit the developer here.