Indie platformers are a dime a dozen – especially low-polygon, minimalistic ones that utilise physics, tell obscure, obfuscated stories and constantly remind you how clever they are. And there’s another one. Called Albert and Otto, the game puts you in the monochromatic shoes of Albert, a young boy in pre-wartime Germany.
His sister’s been taken away by a mysterious darkness, leaving just her magical bunny, Otto behind. Armed with the bunny, Albert must make his way through a series of perilous traps to reclaim his abducted sibling. At least, that’s what the game’s Steam page and official website say, because in the first of the four episodes of the game, none of that is made apparent. There are hints that it’ll all become dark and subversive, and that Albert isn’t quite the hero he seems, but you’d be hard-pressed to figure this out from within the game.
Beyond seeing her vanish, there’s little else here in terms of story on display. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe you’re not really meant to have an emotional investment. Maybe it all comes later, beyond the 3 hours that this first episode will take you to mow through – depending, of course, by how stumped you get by its puzzles.
When the game starts, Albert is armed with a gun, which is used not only to kill errant beasties who seem to want you dead for whatever reason, but also as part of your puzzle-solving toolkit. The biggest, most instrumental is Otto; the rabbit. Once you have him in your possession, you’re able to do a double jump, allowing you to vault over obstacles and reach higher points and save yourself from falling to your hundredth death. That double jump becomes a bit of a crutch. Later on, you’ll have to drop Otto, leaving him on a switch as you make your way to another one – leaving you feeling absolutely and utterly hopeless without your double jump.
Later still, Otto is imbued with greater powers granting you telekinesis. As long as you’re holding on to him, you’re able to move objects with an outstretched arm, which you’ll use to pile boxes atop each other, drag crates to rest on pressure plates and other similar-structured puzzles. Sometimes, you’ll l have to hold a rock in place with your mind, so you could shoot it in to a pipe. Once you’ve received this ability, Otto can also be used to activate electrical switches, sometimes remotely, meaning more opportunities to leave the bunny behind and wallow in that feeling of hopelessness.
The puzzles range from the laughably easy, to the curiously clever – and some are even darker than a Goth’s eye make-up; the stuff I had to do with a few unfortunate sheep in the name of progress makes me chuckle and wince at the same time. A few puzzles had me scratching my chin for a few minutes, with many requiring a bit of trial and error – resulting in many frustrating, unnecessary deaths. This isn’t helped much by a check-pointing system that’s sometimes inconsistent.
One particular section near the end of this chapter sees Albert floating downriver on top of a crate. None of the obstacles near the beginning were particularly tough, but towards its conclusion, some pixel-perfect precision platforming is needed and I died far more times than I’d like to admit. Unfortunately, each death saw me returning to the beginning of said section, draining my will with each restart.
There are collectibles – shards of something that tempt you with risking life to collect them. I have not a clue what they might be for other than as a number that increases when you collect them, so there’s none of the risk vs reward you’d expect. Just risk. Its platforming, while serviceable, doesn’t quite have the meat you’d find in some other indie platforming games. Fiddly controls, unnecessary shooting and a few odd glitches mean the game is less polished than it ought to be.
And yet, there’s something about that kept drawing me in. It’s got an interesting, gloomy aesthetic that instantly recalls early Tim Burton, and will no doubt draw numerous comparison to Playdead’s Limbo thanks to its nearly monochromatic palette and similar use of German Expressionism. Despite those influences, it’s got a heart and soul of its own. The first episode is short, it’s imitative and it’s frequently frustrating – and yet I can’t help but recommend it. It’s one of those games that makes you slap your head when you figure out a puzzle as the obvious, right-in-front-of-you solution mocks you for being so thick.
I know it seems like I’ve done nothing but complain about what the game gets wrong, and that’s probably true. It makes many mistakes in its execution, but it’s got such heart and an undeniable charm that makes it worth playing.
Last Updated: November 4, 2015