A Particularly Good Flash Title: I and Me Review
The greatest indie titles have always had their defining mechanics -- some might call them gimmicks -- that serve as the jumping off point for where the developer takes the rest of the game. Even among the quirky indie platformers that litter download shops from Steam to XBLA, fans can rattle off the key concepts by heart: Braid has its time manipulation, Limbo has its physics, and Super Meat Boy refines the age-old formula of split-second timing and copious memorization. But the thing that all these games share is that while they may be defined for their ability to excel at their main great idea, the remainder of the experience is built and reinforced by this solid foundation like an exquisite, expansive mansion where every room is as meticulously crafted as the parlor and foyer. It’s in this attention to the complete experience of making a video game, rather than a one-dimensional toy that does the same thing over and over or a big beautiful home with nothing to occupy it, that so many indie titles fall short.
I and Me, a puzzle platformer published by Ratalaika Games, was recently released on the Nintendo Switch for the wallet-friendly price of $9.99 (it was released on Steam last year), is one of a growing heap of indie titles that fails to reach the throes of greatness for the same reason as so many before it. Despite a base concept that functions fairly well and provides just enough content to justify its price point and time investment, I and Me comes off as one-dimensional, failing to stray from its core concept at any point or supplement it with enough extra motivation or detail to make it feel like much more than a particularly good Flash title.
I and Me is a puzzle platformer based around the control of two cats, or rather, one cat and its shadow, with the use of only the control stick and a single button for jumping, wherein each level is based upon moving the two cats into position within a pair of meticulously placed picture frames. The caveat, of course, is that the player only ever controls both cats at the same time, so that when one cat moves, the other does as well at the same speed and direction, requiring the use of the environment to space them apart properly, while also operating levers and dodging hazards at the same time. As you might expect, this idea actually works very well for I and Me, creating a decent amount of clever level concepts.
The issue I take with I and Me, then, is not that the game is broken or even overly frustrating in any sense -- as a matter of fact, the surrounding presentation is essentially based on a poetic exploration through levels based on the four seasons (which is almost entirely an aesthetic choice only) sprinkled with commentary about… something. Sometimes the subtitles before each level or uncovered by scrolls that serve as the game’s “completionist” items are about the self and isolation, sometimes they seem to be about the weather or the environment, but mostly they don’t seem to have much bearing on the game other than to set the tone. Admittedly, sometimes I’m a little bit demanding with story or setting in games, to where I would prefer a more suggestive statement about the game’s meaning than “alone, or not to be alone again, that is the question,” especially if there isn’t going to be any follow-up to that title card, but after a while the sweet and ambiguous non-sequiturs start to grind with their repetitiveness and lack of commitment to anything.
The game also attempts to go a step further with the “low-stress puzzler” approach by having the only other function on the controller be for displaying a hint to the level solution in the form of a black-and-white video demonstration of the majority of the level -- which is very helpful sometimes, but the problem with this is that activating the hint automatically resets the level when it’s over, and solutions in later levels can become so multifaceted that it’s difficult to remember the correct sequence. Plus, it’s much easier than you’d think to hit the hint button by accident in the middle of a level, which resets things whether you’d like to or not. So much for stress-free platforming. The aspect of the game that’s actually the most successful in delivering that concept is the music, which is a layered mix of ambient sounds including birds chirping and the like, and a soothing, minimal orchestral score, limited mostly to winds and soft piano. For a game that misses its mark on one of its supplemental ideas in so many areas, it’s surprising to think that the soundtrack is so successful at it, making the music and its implementation one of the best parts of the game, even if it can’t outweigh the failure of the controls (they work just fine, it’s just very hard to adjust to moving two things in one motion) or the misguided hint system to achieve the same thing.
I and Me has the look of an indie darling in more ways than one, and its price point on a still sparsely-populated eShop might make it a viable purchase for a lot of Switch owners (especially those drawn in by its title card’s striking similarity to I am Setsuna), but I don’t see it satisfying too many of its potential buyers. It’s far too simplistic and one-dimensional for its own good, to the point that it grows repetitive before the end of its 90-level progression, and isn’t consistent enough in the other aspects of its vision to make up for it in its presentation or message. I recommend sticking to titles like Cave Story+ or the even-cheaper Kamiko for your indie fix until your next major Switch purchase.