In the Shadows is gorgeous with its moody and atmospheric lighting contrasting the blocky 8-bit style. In the Shadows is a thinker, throwing puzzles at you that are genuinely challenging and rewarding. But most of all, In the Shadows is personal.
It got its start on Kickstarter, successfully locking down $13,454 in pledges in May of last year for the solo developer NT at Colorspace Studio. That’s right around when a single PR/QA person was added to the roster, but for the most part, this is a singular vision about childhood. You start off as just another man but quickly drift off to sleep and fall deep into a terrifying fantasy world full of shadows and monsters.
When you land, you play as a child, using light to transform these nightmarish creatures back into the everyday objects they used to be. These little blobs might turn back into tiny trampolines or the tall, scraggly shadows might change into a ladder. It’s immediately evocative of the fear we surely all shared with Kevin McCallister; within the umbra hides monsters.
You’ll go about side-scrolling through oversized, warped rooms that would otherwise be bedrooms and libraries. Each room has a certain number of joyfully jumping stars to collect and an exit to reach, and within one cleared, you’ll unlock another door to another room on the way to the attic of this house. And the attic, with its dim corners and extreme accrual of creepy cobwebs, is where some of the more demanding stages live.
Admittedly, the earlier ones can also get pretty tough. The primary mechanic is flipping light switches, turning on and off lights that will transform these shadows. The first set of rooms teach you the basics: the range at which they are affected, how they respawn out of vents, and that sort of stuff. But then it quickly gets complicated.
There was one level, in fact, where both the fellow next to me and I got stuck for about 10 minutes. It involved a single trampoline shadow but required you to seemingly clear two springy jumps at once to overcome. It looked impossible, basically.
He called it quits, but I pushed through as the solution dawned on me. With such limited mechanics, the puzzle design has to really shine, and this one convinced me this game had something going for it. It required me to think laterally in the moment but vertically at varying points in time. Visualizing the solution was almost at the limits of what a beginner to this world could grasp. It was almost fist pump-worthy when I reached that exit.
Then the attic showed another side that I wasn’t quite ready for. Leading up to that, the game had been mostly chill. Doors connect to rooms you wouldn’t expect, monsters creep up on you with eerie determination. That sort of thing. But the first attic level greets you upfront with some dextrous platforming requirements, hopping over lava while blobby shadows crawl over platforms.
It opened up what I knew to expect from the game. It was a near transformative demo. The expectation for a personal tale of childhood is there from the beginning and permeates the whole thing, but then the puzzles quickly turn up before finally integrating some physical challenge rather than just mental. It’s a growth that makes me excited to play more.
In the Shadows comes out for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC this spring.