Graffiti Games, the publisher behind games like Blue Fire, Creature Keeper, Elderand, and Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion, has paired with Team Ugly on a new indie game, Ugly. This 2D-platforming adventure game takes you on a journey of innovation, trauma, and an unconventional mirror mechanic.
Ugly begins with an alcoholic, big-nosed protagonist awakening in his dreary abode. The game’s visuals immediately set the tone, painting a picture of a lonely, downtrodden soul grappling with substance abuse. The narrative unfolds without a single spoken word through the game’s masterful use of imagery and a hauntingly beautiful score.
A Glimpse into Ugly’s Dark World
As you venture through the opulent yet decrepit palace, you’ll soon discover the root of the protagonist’s misery. The protagonist was born into wealth but marred by a father obsessed with appearance, which, we all know, is how someone so focused on beauty goes. The palace walls are adorned with countless images of this narcissistic nobleman, starkly contrasting the protagonist’s perceived ugliness. It’s a tale of abuse and misplaced anger that becomes painfully evident.
The game’s narrative is not spoon-fed through dialogue but through interactive points scattered throughout the map. These points offer chilling crayon drawings and snapshots of the protagonist’s painful past. To fully immerse yourself in the story, you must unearth and confront every memory, as each counts as an achievement.
The Mirror Mechanic: Your Key to Progress
At the heart of Ugly is its unique platforming mechanic. Early on, you’ll encounter a magical mirror shard that lets you create a mirrored copy of our hero. This mirror image follows your movements along the opposite axis and can pass through solid objects. It’s a gameplay mechanic with potential for creative puzzles and logical experiments.
While some puzzles may stump you momentarily, the game provides optional hints, although they may not always hit the mark. One improvement we’d wish for is a more effective hint system to ease those particularly challenging moments.
Ugly‘s design is as intricate as its narrative. Each section of the house presents a themed series of puzzles representing different phases or people in the protagonist’s life. Progression hinges on completing each room’s puzzles and obtaining the key. This well-structured system keeps you engaged and invested in the story.
But Ugly isn’t just about platforming puzzles. It spices things up with colossal boss battles that demand a different approach. These fights require you to employ your puzzle-solving skills aggressively, thinking outside the box. The game generously allows you to restart encounters, ensuring that frustration never gets the upper hand.
What makes Ugly genuinely remarkable is how it introduces fresh challenges as you explore different home sections. These challenges disrupt your established strategies, keeping you engaged and on your toes. For example, in the third level, you encounter crystals that affect your reflection’s movement. With each new area you unlock, expect a new twist to the gameplay.
The synergy between room design and boss fights is another highlight. After unlocking all the doors in a given area, you’re in for an epic showdown or chase intricately tied to the challenges you’ve faced. This seamless integration between puzzles, rooms, and bosses adds depth and cohesion to the game.
Artistry in the Details
Ugly artistry goes beyond the narrative and gameplay. It’s evident in the rich symbolism and references that pepper the experience. Each element contributes to the game’s visually pleasing and eerie atmosphere, from classical art inspirations to symbolism tied to insects like butterflies and spiders.
Even background elements, seemingly innocuous, contribute to the foreboding atmosphere. From paintings revealing shattered family portraits to rising green gas signalling a pitfall, Team Ugly has carefully crafted a dark fairy tale that lingers in your thoughts. It’s all presented with an enchanting, almost cartoonish visual style accentuating the game’s melancholy ambiance.
As you explore the many puzzles, pay attention to the meticulous details like particle effects and lighting, which all contribute to the immersive experience of this dilapidated castle.
The game’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack serves as both aural pleasure and a narrative tool. Soft melodies and jarring audio cues complement the story’s emotional ebb and flow. Listen closely, and you’ll catch cryptic hints about the protagonist’s past, mainly when his mother is in focus.
Filled with memorable and exciting puzzles, Ugly tells a foreboding story about a royal who faces his family and their delusions of beauty. With simple mechanics and accessible controls, Ugly feels like a sleeper hit flying under the radar. You’re rarely given a game that respects your time, yet Team Ugly encourages you to space the experience out and get the most out of their game in a way you rarely see.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Xbox Series
Filled with memorable and exciting puzzles, Ugly tells a foreboding story about a royal who faces his family and their delusions of beauty.
The mirror mechanic is a nice addition to the genre
Accessible for many
Lovely aesthetic that's counter to the name of the game
There are some moments that may be difficult for players to experience