Games & Tech

Review: Playing with Visual Illusions in Superliminal

Screenshot: Superliminal

The tagline for puzzle game Superliminal is “Perception is reality.” A more accurate summation would be perspective is reality.

The indie from Pillow Castle Games plays on how your perspective changes in a three-dimensional world that is displayed on a two-dimensional screen. Certain objects you can pick up need to be bigger or smaller so you can solve a puzzle and advance in the game. In order to do so, you will need to change your perspective so the object appears bigger or smaller against its backdrop.

Screenshot: Superliminal

It’s a cool trick that takes some getting used to. It took all of two rooms for me to get stuck while I was figuring out what was possible in the game’s world. Eventually, it became simple enough to get the hang of what Superliminal wants you to learn.

Puzzle solutions may seem simple at first, but often require an extra level of thought. That seemed to be just the right amount of challenge. Sometimes, though, you see what the puzzle requires you to do and struggle to execute it correctly due to difficulty getting precision from the controls.

Superliminal came out on PC in November. We reviewed it then (Antal Bokor liked it a bit more than I did). Now it’s out on consoles (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch). Being able to aim, move and click with a mouse as opposed to two joysticks probably alleviates the precision problem.

Screenshot: Superliminal

Initially, I questioned the game’s ability to switch it up over the course of a full game. How many different variations can there be for what, at first, appears to be just one game mechanic?

Pillow Castle’s solution to that is in the game’s length. Superliminal will probably take a couple hours to finish depending on how stumped (or not) you get by certain puzzles. The length may be viewed as a detriment in terms of value, but the finished product is tight and it rarely feels like there is any padding.

Ultimately, Superliminal does a good job of keeping the puzzles fresh. There’s just enough variation for the solutions to feel clever throughout. A section will show off a new version of a puzzle, riff on it a few times and move on. That said, get used to seeing narrow hallways.

Screenshot: Superliminal

The game plays with the illusion that game design is all about. You see a cube, but it’s not really a cube. It’s something that looks like and behaves like a cube, but that’s just a visual illusion on a two-dimensional screen. Visual illusion tricks are the heart of Superliminal.

Outside of the puzzles, Superliminal has a good sense of humor that supplements the gameplay. The occasional narration is tongue-in-cheek and is reminiscent of the likes of Portal and Stanley Parable. It adds a bit more to the experience, but isn’t the star of the show.

Screenshot: Superliminal

The premise is that you are stuck in your dreams, which is why all these strange things are happening around you. What starts as mind-bending stuff turns downright trippy by the end of the game. The final section of Superliminal leads into an impressive climax. The puzzle-solving becomes mostly secondary. Instead, some cool visuals (with quality techno-music backing) take the forefront, playing more tricks with perception.

One downside worth mentioning is that the game made me slightly nauseous. The only other time that’s happened to me was with The Witness, another first-person puzzle game. Both share colorful settings with fast-moving disembodied characters. While The Witness became entirely unplayable for me, this was subtle enough that I didn’t notice it at first. Playing in the daytime helped alleviate the problem and it was only for the middle section of the game, but fair warning if you’ve experienced this in similar games before.

Overall, Superliminal is a clever puzzle game that is a tight two-hour experience. It’s not an absolute standout, but is a pleasant experience. There are no glaring issues or bugs. The puzzles sit nicely in the middle ground between too easy and being obtuse. If you like puzzle games, this should be on your list.

Superliminal is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.





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