The Fourth Wall tells the age-old story of a small child who runs away from home and……. collects a giant orb that….. uh…… turns him into a wizard? I’ll level with you here, I don’t have even the slightest clue what this game is “about”. My guess is that it’s either referencing some kind of personal experience on the developer’s part or is meant as a near indecipherable commentary on something or the other. Perhaps both? Maybe neither? Your guess is as good as mine, cus’ there ain’t anything much resembling dialog or text in this game to tell you otherwise.
It starts off simply enough for a 2D platformer: one button makes you jump, one makes you go left, one makes you go right. So far, so Mario. But those mechanics aren’t really going to get you very far on their own, as The Fourth Wall’s worlds are full of obstacles that traditional platformer logic would render impassable. Which is why it’s rather handy that holding down the Ctrl button lets you throw traditional platformer logic out the window like a boss.
Specifically, it’ll make the “camera” freeze in place and cause the edges of the screen to wrap around on themselves similar to a good ol’ game of Asteroids. Don’t get me? Let’s put it this way: If you walk into to the far right of the screen, you’ll suddenly end up on the far left. Head up to the top and you’ll appear on the bottom, and vice versa. Still not following? Don’t worry, unlearning decades of Nintendo brand education takes a bit of getting used to, but once it “clicks” suddenly The Fourth Wall’s funky level design all starts to make sense.
In reality, every environment in The Fourth Wall is a puzzle that can only solved by strategic and precise usage of your genre defying powers. Trying to think how I would even begin to describe some of these puzzles using only the written word and not a series of scribbled diagrams makes my brain want to commit hara-kiri, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they’re best described as “devious”. However while they’re undoubtedly very clever in their design, it’s hard to say they’re not a bit of let-down visually. The backgrounds might feature some neat looking parallax landscapes, but the foreground and the sprites that inhabit it (e.g. you) are jarringly plain and uninteresting. There isn’t much in the way of sound either, bar some (admittedly kinda rad) mellow techno beats and a couple of well-timed audio cues. Are these unfortunate blemishes or are they stylistic choices that went over my head? I suspect a bit of both.
There’s plenty of instantaneous deathtraps adding a bit of spice to each level, but Super Meat Boy this ain’t. Death is but a temporary setback, with the game almost immediately respawning you a short distance from wherever Mr Child/Wizard/Thing met his end, allowing you to focus your attention on the puzzle at hand. And goddamn do they demand that attention! Some of the latter conundrums in particular require some serious Portal 2 grade lateral thinking. Then again, I don’t mean for it to sound like average gamer is going to be yanking their hair out over The Fourth Wall. In fact, it hits the difficulty curve sweat spot almost dead-on for my liking; it lets players make steady yet satisfying progress while still managing to dish out some real head scratcher moments along the way.
With that in mind, don’t expect The Fourth Wall to be something that you keep coming back to over and over. The whole thing’s pretty damn short; easily completable in one relatively short sitting. It’s kind of a bummer really; the concept seems full of potential and the quality of the puzzles suggests the designers had a solid grasp on what kind further devilry they could pull off with it. As it stands it’s still a good little distraction that’ll give your noggin a decent work out, but the brevity of its content and its spartan visuals prevent it from leaving as much of a lasting impression as it probably deserves.
The Fourth Wall is a PC title available for free at http://thefourthwallgame.com/.