Developed By: MarsLit
Published By: MarsLit Games
Category: Adventure, Puzzle, Platforming
Release Date: 03.05.19
The thing I love best about small dev teams is that you know they will bring a personal passion and ambition to their work that is hard to replicate with a huge development staff. MarsLit Games is primarily composed of two brothers from Italy, although they do get some help from some friends. Their first release is Unknown Fate, a first-person puzzle platformer about one man’s journey to recover his past in a strange world of his own fractured memories. The developers’ desire to create something unique and interesting is evident in every aspect of the game, but unfortunately a few flaws hold it back from being something I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Poor Richard Amnesiac
Players take on the role of Richard, a man without a past who is transported to a strange – but strangely familiar – world. Telling you his name is kind of a spoiler, but you find it out relatively early on in the game, and it’s not like his name is relevant to the ending of the story. It’s just the first thing he discovers about himself. Anyway, one of the first things Richard encounters is a red artifact, which is broken into pieces and scattered around the game’s areas. Every time Richard finds a piece of the artifact, he regains some memories of his past self and learns a little bit more about the dream world. It’s a very solid premise set in a pretty cool-looking world, but it makes some missteps.
My biggest gripe is that the story keeps itself vague to the point of frustration. It is built on a very interesting concept, but the minimalist approach taken regarding dialogue and exposition means even after you finish the story, you’re not really sure what the events leading up to Richard’s appearance in this world are, or even what the dream world really is. I call it the dream world because it is supposedly built around, or at least altered to reflect, Richard’s memories – which, again, since everything is kept fairly vague, it’s hard to determine what it is, exactly. This in turn makes it harder to discern or assign meaning to the story, which left makes the game feel a little hollow when you finish.
The Artifacts of Life
Like I said in the open, Unknown Fate is a first-person puzzle platformer. The basic controls are run with the left stick, look around with the right, jump with the B button, and interact with objects with the Y button. For the first few segments of the game, that’s pretty much it. Eventually a small artifact comes into your possession, called the Artifact, which looks kind of like a light bulb with a silver halo. Over the course of the game you unlock three abilities for it; it can shoot small bursts of energy, it can use glyphs to activate certain mechanisms, and it can slow down time over a small area. The gameplay revolves around using your artifact and platforming abilities to solve puzzles to unlock Richard’s past.
Once again, the idea of Unknown Fate’s gameplay is better than its execution. The controls are sluggish to the point of frustration, which isn’t often a problem, but it comes up in some puzzles. Several times I encountered a puzzle that required me to hit certain targets within a time limit, and the imprecise controls made hitting those targets much harder than it had to be. The puzzles themselves are not that hard to figure out, which is another problem, I suppose, but not a source of frustration. Being able to see the solution to a particular puzzle, but being unable to execute that solution because the controls are too imprecise is a huge source of frustration with Unknown Fate that makes for a very unsatisfying experience.
A Beautiful Dream
While I have a few problems with the game design aspects of Unknown Fate, I have no such reservations about its visual design. Unknown Fate is gorgeous, a well-imagined world with a very unique visual style. The way the world changes to reflect Richard’s memories throughout the story was brilliantly implemented, and made for an absolutely stunning game. The sound design is a little more of a mixed bag. The music is very competently arranged and composed. It always fits the mood of the scene; the game’s mood is almost always somber and thoughtful, and the music reflects that. So when it comes to building an atmosphere, the soundtrack succeeds in doing what it wants to. On the other hand, the voice acting is a mixed bag. While it is cool that the game is fully voiced, some actors give a very amateurish performance. The major characters – Richard and the Guardian – benefit from good performances, but a lot of the side characters deliver their lines awkwardly and/or woodenly. Overall, though, the art direction is the game’s strongest attribute.
Unknown Fate does not use either the Switch’s touch or motion controls, so you can play it docked or undocked according to your personal preference. The game has subtitles which are incredibly small on the Switch’s screen in handheld mode, but because of the voice acting it doesn’t necessarily matter. The game’s lush visuals look better on a bigger TV screen, plus playing it docked takes care of the small subtitle problem, so playing docked is my recommendation.
TL;DR: Full points for ambition and visual design, but the gameplay is sluggish and the story is a little too vaguely defined.