Ugly Review

I find myself getting over-excited about triple-A games, much like a giddy school boy. And I do that even though I am now in my fifties. I can’t wait for the Starfields, the Spidermans or the Hogwarts. But no matter how good, I always seem to leave disappointed. Maybe it’s the anticipation that kills? Can a game ever be what we all want it to be?

But in the indie market there are multiple small experiences or adventure games that constantly surprise; coming from out of nowhere to deliver a win. Ugly is one of those games. I knew nothing about it prior to going hands-on – but I am so glad, and so honoured, to have been able to play it. 

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A superb visual adventure

Ugly is a platform puzzle adventure that tests the mental skills. But it rarely frustrates, instead ensuring that you want to go and solve every inch of the gameplay along the way. 

The game’s narrative is told without any words yet still manages to deliver a brilliant weaving narrative, playing out through superb visual storytelling techniques. You start the game in bed as a depressed alcoholic nobleman, down on his luck and relieving his golden past. Very quickly he finds a magic mirror and it is this that can split realities, creating two different versions of himself. The narrative fragments are collected through childhood drawings that show you what has happened to the man and how he came to be. Honestly, I found the narrative to be extremely sad, but beautifully told. 

When thinking of the gameplay I would try to imagine Braid as a good example of how Ugly looks at times, and how ingenious the puzzles are. You move around the levels as you would in any 2D platformer, but it’s the mirror mechanic that is the heart of the game. This creates a mirror image of the hero and you can control both at the same time. So, in a simple explanation of the controls, if you move the hero right, the mirrored image of him will go left. The mirror image can also pass through solid objects which allows you to collect keys or progress through the many levels and rooms. The main puzzle elements of the game are found in trying to navigate both you and the mirrored image through the many different rooms. 

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What’s going on here?

There are a variety of chapters and levels to complete, each with a boss battle. Each of the battles are different and utilise puzzle elements and dexterity. Nothing gets too tough in these battles and – on the whole – are very enjoyable. I loved exploring the levels, taking in the game design and understanding the story they were trying to tell. However, there’s a chance that at times you’ll find yourself stuck in Ugly, and the hint system available seems to confuse more than anything. Perhaps that’s just me, but it may point to non-puzzle solvers struggling a bit with what is on offer. That said, Ugly might well be a good one to kick off a new love affair. 

Ugly’s artistic vision is creative and unique. The level design is sublime, with great lighting effects that can be both colourful and sombre in the same breath. I like the character design and the boss battles are fantastic. The castle that you are exploring is also full of character and memories, with it decaying all around you.

The soundtrack is pretty amazing as well. It comes complete with haunting melodies and frantic set pieces that complement the gameplay throughout. In fact, Ugly is a bit of a masterclass in sound design, especially regarding effects and environmental design. 

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Ugly is creative and unique

Ugly may well take you by surprise. It is clever, exciting to play and full of unique gameplay mechanics, brilliant boss battles, and adventure. Taking you on a journey through a narrative of highs and lows, sadness and remorse, this is a visually-told affair that is pretty amazing. Some puzzles might frustrate, but ultimately the challenge is part of the experience.



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