Tuesday, March 26

Review: The World Next Door [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Indie games tend to be fun to review because you never really know what to expect, their tendency to blend genres and styles can be risky but can often result in unexpected fun as well. A great title that fits into that mold is The World Next Door, which is very story and character-driven, at times having a sort of RPG feel, but whose combat is more of a puzzle game. Putting together terrific art, some memorable characters, and consistently challenging puzzle battles it’s not quite like anything I’ve played on Switch and that in itself is an accomplishment.


You’ll play the game as Jun, the winner of a yearly lottery that gets to visit the magical parallel world of Emrys for one day. Eager to finally meet one of her best friends on the other side, Liza, she dons a mask to help her blend in a little better and sets off for adventure. Once there she gets to meet an eclectic bunch of characters who are Liza’s friends (and one frenemy) and hang out with them. That night, when they decide to visit a temple to hang out, things go wrong and Jun ends up missing the window for getting back to Earth. Trapped, and understanding that humans can’t survive for long in this world, Jun will have to fight to earn herself a way back home.


While the story and character interactions have their part of play, probably the most interesting aspect of the game is its puzzle-based combat. Arenas will have different layouts but there will always be a variety of glyphs on the floor, representing the means for a variety of spells you’re able to cast against your enemies or to heal yourself. The system isn’t too hard to pick up, finding or making matches of 3 or more of the same glyph touching one another to cast each spell. You’re also able to move one glyph at a time to change their positions and create more powerful attacks. As the game progresses you’ll want to group 4 or more to take advantage of different special attacks offered by each of your allies when combining special glyphs in a specific configuration. Combat can get pretty hectic, especially when facing multiple enemies at once and when you’ll run into foes that can trigger glyphs on the floor as well, often complicating your ability to plan ahead.


With all of the investment in the characters, and providing you with multiple options for how you respond to certain situations and interactions, perhaps the biggest disappointment I had is that the story didn’t end with more of a flourish. There’s one major decision I made along the way that would compel me to return for another playthrough (taking a solid handful of hours), to see if things would play out differently, but though as the plot points play out decisions feel like they’d carry consequence it’s not clear to me whether that’s true. There are a number of special puzzles and smaller side tasks you can complete, helping various peripheral people at the school, but it’s also unclear whether they ended up having any net effect on the story or game. While these notes don’t necessarily detract from the game they also feel like missed opportunities, or perhaps it would just help if more clarity was provided about the consequences of your actions.


As the final credits rolled The World Next Door felt like a satisfying experience on the whole but I was also left with questions. I suppose that could be the goal, to encourage people to play through again making different decisions and see what would happen, but given minimal feedback from the game on the effect of what you chose to do or say it’s hard to be confident enough would change to make it worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure the game took me on, and the characters I got to interact with along the way, I just wish the story’s conclusion was more clearly a culmination of my choices, good and bad, somehow.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Terrific art and a variety of colorful characters
  • A puzzle game acting as the combat mechanic in the game is interesting and can be challenging fun
  • Some opportunities with responses to let your personality through, not always just offering stock predictable responses
Cons:
  • After so much build up the ending feels a bit anticlimactic, and without clarity on how choices you made may have affected the outcome
  • It’s unclear what effect items you gain through completing special side quests with people at the school or special puzzles in some of the dungeons have