Iris.Fall Review

Iris.Fall was developed by NEXT Studios and originally released on Steam in 2018. This week Xbox players will finally have a chance to play this atmospheric Adventure-lite Puzzle game. The puzzle genre remains one of the most popular genres in video games and it seems like a new puzzle game is released onto the Xbox marketplace every few days. Its popularity likely comes from the fact that most of them have very low barriers of entry and then they slowly ramp up the difficulty. Another reason could be that many of them have high replay values, especially the more abstract ones. Does Iris.Fall stand out in this crowded genre? Are the puzzles fun and satisfying to solve? Continue reading for answers to these questions plus many more.

There’s no dialogue in Iris.Fall, in fact it doesn’t have any text at all. The story is told through short cutscenes that have a manga-like lithograph look to them, as well as a few pictures here and there. The art is well done but the lack of any explanation makes the story hard to follow and understand. The game starts with a cutscene showing the young girl that you play as being woken up from a nightmare in which she was being tormented by a face-obscured puppet, mastered by a black cat. She follows the black cat out of her house, through the town, and into a large mysterious theatre, which seems to double as a clock tower. As you play the game and complete certain puzzles and levels you’ll get more exposition, getting glimpses of the girl’s past and her relationship with what looks like her grandmother. But if you came here looking for an in depth or clear story you’ll be severely disappointed. I guess you could kind of look at the story as a puzzle in and of itself and try to piece it all together, but that’s a little over my head.

The shining aspect has to be the art style which is the first thing that attracted me to the game. The in-game art has the same lithographic look to it as the cut scenes, which is accomplished by using a monochrome cel-shaded style. Some sections have an eerie feel to them whereas others have a magical quality. Some people say they dream in black and white so perhaps this is the reason they went with that choice. The opening cutscene shows you waking up, but I soon started to think my character might still be dreaming. This is due to the mind-boggling, peculiar architecture you start to encounter a few chapters into the game. There are multiple areas that have qualities of M.C. Escher’s work, one in particular where you’re in a pop-up book looks a lot like Relativity (the one with the stairs going all over the place) in which the puzzle requires you to turn the pages back and forth so you can move across the pages. Another better than average aspect in the game is the audio design. The music always seems to fit the situation, giving some cutscenes a happy feeling and making others feel mysterious in addition to setting the tone at the beginning of some chapters with a foreboding and ominous score. The sound effects felt just right too, from running and picking up various things, to the rain falling through a hole in the roof or the cranking of the many gears throughout some of the levels.

The gameplay in Iris.Fall consists of the basic left joystick or D-pad to move (sometimes you walk, sometimes you run, would be nice if you ran a little faster) and A to interact with or pick up items which she puts them into her little handbag no matter how big they are (handbag of holding most likely). When you’re next to something that requires you to place an item Y opens a menu on the right side of the screen to show the contents of your handbag you select the item you want with A and then press the Left movement button to move it directly to where you’re standing and press A again to place it. This is so much easier than other Adventure games that make you select your item and then drag it all over the screen trying to find where it’s supposed to go. Another aspect that eases the gameplay in Iris.Fall is the hint function in the options menu. It doesn’t give you hints to solve the puzzles but rather indicates which things on screen can be interacted with by placing a dot above or next to whatever it is.

Honestly I don’t play that many story based puzzle games, I find that it usually gets to a point where the puzzles become fiendishly difficult, but thankfully that doesn’t happen in Iris.Fall. I wouldn’t say they get more difficult but as the game progresses some get more confusing. There’s a decent variation in puzzles in Iris.Fall. A lot of them make use of the game’s main mechanic, the “light & shadow” system. The regular game takes place in a 3D world but there are books next to walls in certain places that the player can interact with to enter to become a 2D shadow on the wall (sort of like the shadow feature in the game Contrast, except there’s no platforming involved in this game).

Puzzles with this mechanic in Iris.Fall require the player to move objects around creating a path your shadow can travel across to reach a new area. These get more complex as the game progresses but I never found them to be too tough. Another type requires you to match things in the puzzle to something outside the puzzle, sometimes it can be difficult to find the thing you need to match on the outside, but once you do most of these are relatively simple. There are a few puzzles where the display changes to first person displaying what the character is looking at, this is a nice change from the other puzzles, but they can require some trial and error since there’s never any explanations. There are other unique puzzles that require a lot of trial and error. Sometimes you’ll get a eureka moment but many times I felt like I was just hitting buttons, most of those I eventually solved; fortunately though since the game has been on Steam for a few years there were solutions for the few I couldn’t solve. Since the puzzles are always the same there isn’t much reason to play the game again, unless you just want to experience the fantastic and mystifying setting a second time. Overall the game only takes a few hours so it doesn’t ever feel like it’s getting stale, but paying the full price for such a short game could be a little off putting.

Conclusion

Iris.Fall delivers an enchanting and mysterious dream-like world for you to explore. The variety of puzzles keep the game interesting, but the lack of any explanation can make some of them confusing.  The shadow mechanic the game employs isn’t new but it gives the puzzles more variety.  The puzzles never get too difficult and the overall experience is on the short end timewise, but if you want to experience a beautiful and sometimes eerie puzzle adventure that draws on the work of M.C. Escher for artistic inspiration Iris.Fall could be just the game for you.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Good
  • Great atmosphere created by stylized monochrome art style and audio design
  • Large variety of puzzles, some familiar, some not
Bad
  • Short overall length with somewhat abrupt and anticlimactic ending
  • Some puzzles are confusing with no explanations, but most can be solved with trial and error
  • Sort of difficult to follow the story with no dialogue or text
7.5
Good
Gameplay - 7.2
Graphics - 8.9
Audio - 8.6
Longevity - 5.4
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

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