What truly defines a game as a puzzle game? We play in a time in which practically any genre can adopt a few puzzle elements and go on to boast that very concept. Because of this it can be tricky nowadays to pin down a game that completely focuses on brain teasers without all of the trimmings that typically comes with. Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is a prime example of how to marry puzzles with fun, whilst at the same time housing simplistic mechanics and an easy to soak up design. It’s a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy, regardless as to how tough it can be. It’s not hard because the puzzles are difficult, it’s hard because you’re tasked with guiding two characters at the same time in opposite directions. Extend the warranty of your control pads, Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is not a game for the impatient.
It’s worth pointing out that Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is an Xbox Play Anywhere title, meaning that you can purchase it for one platform (PC / Xbox) and automatically own it for the other. Progress, achievements, and saved data will seamlessly carry between the versions, so you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off should you bounce between the two. Drawing back to my point about this game being frustrating, it’s important to note that this isn’t entirely a criticism. Don’t get me wrong, there were several moments that I could have easily of deleted the damn thing, but I would have only of reinstalled it soon after. That’s the beauty of Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince. It constantly pulls you back for that proverbial one last attempt.
There is a story to be found within, but this is hardly what I would describe as intriguing or even interesting. The game centers around three adventurers known as Hero, Nulan and Heim. These characters each offer different ways to overcome the puzzles within, which in effect makes each level feel different depending on who you choose. On-screen the game remains symmetrical and is divided right down the middle. Each half of the screen represents a universe (if you like) and comes with a design and layout that is unique against the counterpart. The aim of the game is to get each character on opposing sides of the screen to their respective goals. The kicker however is that movement isn’t mirrored, instead it’s inverted, which makes it all the more challenging.
For example, moving the character forward on the left will move the character on the right downward, moving the character on the left to the right will move the character on the right to the left. It sounds far more complicated than it needs to be, but the movement pattern is far from the most complex feature in the game. That, ladies and gentlemen, that goes to the many pathways you’ll need to take. Getting from A to B isn’t as simple as walking to your goal. Each screen is full of hazards or barricades that you’ll be required to carefully avoid or sidestep. One correct move on the left side of the screen could end up moving the character on the right side of the screen to their doom. Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is a game of patience, perseverance, and excellent coordination. Anything short of that and, like me, you’ll find yourself constantly throwing in the towel.
The difficulty curve is well set and slowly but gradually throws new tricks at you as you dive deeper in. Environmental hazards will shift from dodging zombie arms, to avoiding projectile weapons that constantly fling across the screen in linear directions. Before long you’ll find yourselves outmaneuvering and overcoming all forms of nasty progress blockers at the same time. Be it flames, pitfalls, spooks, and more – this game doesn’t hold your hand throughout the entirety of play. Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is a top-down 2D experience, so nothing is ever obscured from your view. The presentation is far from impressive, even for a pixelated game this is lacking in oomph and detail.
It’s a shame really because there’s a lot that can be done with pixel art, but that seems to a mute point in this case. This isn’t a massive complaint, but with so many games of similar visual design being released lately, that extra bit of effort to stand out would have gone a long way. The diverse locations on the other hand is marginally more satisfying. Players will be taken across a nice selection of environments throughout the course of the three hour campaign. Furthermore, when you take into account that each half of the screen tends to be wildly different from the another, it helps to remove that visual repetition.
Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is intimidating and frustrating, but that’s precisely its intention. Fans of puzzle games will likely enjoy what’s on offer throughout the campaign, and it packs just enough content to justify the price point. Sadly however the only aspect of play that truly evolves throughout the course of the game is the difficulty. The visuals, despite being diverse, are far from interesting and the same can be said about the story.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.