Superliminal is a first-person puzzle game that plays with your perspective, developed by Pillow Castle. The game was previously released on PC back in late-2019, but is now making its console debut on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Similar in tone to games like Portal and The Stanley Parable, Superliminal asks players to think outside the box and consider things from new angles. With simplistic controls and an alluring concept, Superliminal offers an interesting experience at an approachable budget-price. Does Superliminal have the inventive spark to provide an entertaining and head-scratching romp, or is this a pale imitation of far better puzzle games? Let’s see if this previously PC-only puzzle game is worth your time with our Superliminal console review!
What Dreams May Come
In the world of Superliminal, things are not what they seem. Objects fluctuate in size, optical illusions are around every corner, and things feel generally squeaky clean. This is because the majority of the game takes place within a dream, where the limits of physics and space are simply a recommendation. One night while dozing off, you catch a silly television commercial detailing the “patent-pending SomnaSculpt technology” from the prestigious Pierce Institute.
This new form of dream therapy allows patients to approach their issues in a safe and manageable space; their own mind. As you fall asleep and enter the world of dreams, you suddenly find yourself thrust into dream therapy orientation, guided by a disembodied voice. As you navigate the ever-expanding office and uncover the deeper part of your subconscious, what you find might surprise you.
Like many post-Portal puzzle games, Superliminal provides a mixture of comedy and wit, combined with an expected turn towards darker philosophy. There are a few chuckle-worthy lines delivered by the two voices that guide you through your journey, but not enough that I would call Superliminal a “funny” game. It also never totally commits to its darker aspects, instead opting for a more lighthearted narrative.
While there’s not a ton of plot to speak of, what’s here is good enough to keep you progressing through each new puzzle area. Apart from a handful of story beats, there’s nothing incredibly memorable about the narrative. That said, I still had a decent time discovering the truth behind the dream therapy sessions.
The star of the show in Superliminal is the perspective-skewing gameplay and persistence of optical illusions, which encourage players to look at their surroundings from all possible angles. Although Superliminal plays with time and space in a variety of ways, it mostly utilizes forced-perspective and depth perception manipulation as a focus. By manipulating certain key objects, you can change their size, allowing you to progress into the next puzzle area. For example, an early room has the exit located halfway up a wall with no steps to be found. In the center of the room is a small set of dice, which can be picked up and altered. If the dice looks bigger because you’re holding it a certain way, it remains that size when you drop it. By tinkering with them, you’re able to properly size the dice to create a path up to the exit.
Although this might sound confusing, it’s incredibly intuitive in practice. The game is spread across nine story levels, with the first three levels offering noticeably more simple puzzle setups. Generally speaking, the puzzles in Superliminal are designed in a way that shouldn’t stump you too often, but rather quickly guide you towards a fun and inventive solution. I only found myself stumped once or twice during my playthrough, but just like with many other puzzle games, a quick break and some time away from the game was all I needed to see things clearly.
As you progress through Superliminal, you’ll experiment with a variety of other things, including shadows, scale, item-cloning, and more. Unfortunately, by the time the game hits its stride, it’s over. The biggest problem with Superliminal is its uneven pacing. The game takes too long to experiment with new ideas, boiling most of the puzzles down to a “make this item big by looking at it weird” solution. Sure, it’s fun to figure out the unique solutions each time, but once you’ve played through the game’s roughly three-hour story once, that’s it. Apart from achievements/trophies and a few collectibles, there isn’t a huge reason to jump back in. The initial playthrough is mostly entertaining and exciting, but don’t expect a highly replayable experience.
Should You Play Superliminal?
If you’re a fan of quirky puzzle games that don’t overstay their welcome, Superliminal is a great choice. While it’s not as complex or satisfying as a game like The Witness or Portal, it’s charming enough to warrant a playthrough. If anything, Superliminal offers some exceptionally cool scenery and technological wizardry that is wickedly interesting at first blush. Even after the novelty wears off, the base mechanics are still engaging, so you’ll likely breeze through the game in a few short sittings.
Even when you consider the obvious inspirations from Portal and its somewhat-failure to live up to that absurdly high standard, Superliminal is one of the most unique puzzle games I’ve seen in years. As a console port, Superliminal works just fine, although you might encounter some frame-rate issues or the occasional glitch. Those problems aside, Superliminal on consoles is just as interesting and peculiar as it is on PC.
Note: This game was reviewed on Xbox One using a final version review code provided by the publisher.