29th Aug2018

Digital Shorts: ‘Behind the Screen’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we take a look at Behind the Screen – an oddly engaging and quite unique indie game that has joined the line-up of Nindies on the Nintendo Switch.

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Behind the Screen, the first title from 18Light Game is a two hour game in which the main puzzles flit between sliding puzzles, stealth sections and various rhythm games. Tying this altogether is an oddly fitting bleak tale of abuse, depression and murder told through roughly-translated text. Much like recent game Earthworms, the idiosyncrasies of the game make it oddly engaging and quite unique.

Set in 1970s Taiwan, Behind the Screen tells the story of a man who has been accused of murder. These events unfold through VHS-quality live action footage presented as a news report and various interviews. Following this sequence, the game moves back to the man’s youth to begin in earnest and the stages that take us up to the present time are separated by various key moments throughout his childhood and young adulthood.

Beginning as a seemingly wayward toddler, the game initially starts with sliding puzzles and stealth sections before adding in rhythm mini-games slightly further in. Although basic, these games are often quite tough, although the games design allows quick replays of failed segments due to well-implemented instant restarts. As you move around each areas linear path, there are also hidden items to pick up that flesh out the story. Characters are presented in a rosy-cheeked chubby style which, along with the strange fantastical happenings and bleakness of the tale combine to make a quite specifically-told adventure. The rough translation (I don’t think there is a single accurate line of English dialogue in the entire game) is readable if not accurate but this again adds to the strange sense of alienation and displacement of the main character, even if it is unintentional.

The audio in the game is sparse with mood and ambience being the order of the day. The real-life parts of the game (set mainly in the school) are interspersed with other sections set in a surreal fantasy land super-imposed over real-life by the protagonist and it is here that some of the oddest moments in the game occur, including a level whereby the boy is pegging it away from an unpleasant female teacher who has ‘transformed’ into something….unsettling.

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Although the gameplay and puzzle sections are brief and simplistic (although some are quite challenging) when compared to the events and narrative surrounding the game, they do provide enough variation to keep things interesting. Behind the Screen feels like a small game that has real character that shines through it’s melancholy tale. There are obvious flaws in its translation and slightly finicky controls in certain puzzles (not helped by the ever so slight lag on the Switch which made the rhythm sections more difficult than they should have been) but it is engaging enough and short enough to warrant working through these issues to see how the story ends.

Behind the Screen won’t appeal to everyone due to its quirks but those who find that the game does click with them will find a quite endearing story with light game play from a studio that is definitely worth keeping an eye on due to their approach and style.

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