Illusion: A Tale of the Mind is a rather dark, gritty tale of one man’s unrequited love pushing him into insanity and ultimately sticking to the words “If I can’t have her, then nobody can”. From developer Frima Studio and Publisher Ravenscourt, we have a 3D puzzle platformer that will last you around three-five hours from beginning to end. Just like with any other ‘Illusion’, not everything is as it seems, the game has its flaws yet I was intrigued to play it through to the end due to the interesting story.
Now, I love puzzle games yet there was something about this one that almost had me stop playing at one point, let’s find out why that was…
Illusion: A Tale of the Mind begins with our protagonist, Emma, waking up in a twisted world conceived of puzzles, ghostly figures, and memories. With the help of her magically floating stuff bunny rabbit, Topsy, you must both work together as you solve the many puzzles placed before you, backtrack to find items, uncover forgotten memories, and ultimately cleanse your father’s mind. That’s right, Emma realises that she is actually within her father’s mind, a mind which is currently under attack from an evil hypnotist who wants to make him forget about his life with his wife.
The game gets pretty dark, if I’m being honest, from the gruesome discovery of what happened to their child, the lengths this evil hypnotist will go through in order to make Euclide, the father, forget about things, and it really gets a bit twisted as you delve into the psychotic actions and phrases the hypnotist comes out with. However, Topsy helps to keep things light and cheerful as much as it can, by offering witty dialogue here and there in order to balance out the creepy.
We will recall memories of Euclide from before their child was born, when he was pulled into war service, his return back to the circus and his wife, and finally the present memories of him being hypnotised and forced to drink until he forgets. Just who is Emma and what does she and Topsy have to do with anything? There’s only one way to find out – grab this beautifully looking game and give it a try.
Illusion: A Tale of the Mind is ultimately a puzzle game with a few segments of platforming, running away from things, and exploration/collecting items. Unfortunately, each segment seems to have less polish than I would have hoped for. Now, I’m not saying the game is bad, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and I’m going to jump back in to collect all of the missed trophies soon (no platinum), but there are annoying mechanics which I wished were a little more precise. I’ll go into detail below, but let’s begin with the core mechanic, the one with the least issues…
This game has a lot of puzzles, not a lot of puzzle ‘types’, but a lot of puzzles. There are four main puzzle ‘types’; Switches, Shadow Objects, Alignment puzzles, and Tangrams.
Switches are exactly what you would think it is – you kick a coloured blob and the related item/doorway will either move or open for you to progress. This puzzle is often paired up with backtracking and exploration. So, more often than not, you will activate all the switches one after another to get an object, then you have to activate them in reverse order so you can progress to the next scene.
Shadow Objects are what you’d expect. If you’ve played Perfect Angle before, or used your hands to create images on the wall with your shadow, then that’s what this is. You must rotate up to four objects in order to create a new object within the shadows. You usually have a clue somewhere on screen as to what you are trying to create, so it isn’t that hard – later on, they do get a little tricky though
Alignment Puzzles are a bit different, and there are two kinds. The first kind you’ll encounter is probably the most fun. You have to walk or look around the environment in order to line up shapes/objects so that they create a new item that becomes active in this world. For example, at one point you have to hit switches to move pieces around so you can rotate the camera to make an aeroplane manifest so you can progress. The other type of this puzzle involves light. You have a wheel that you must rotate and move a candle around so that you can shine in the light and highlight an image. This is another logic-based puzzle yet it has quite a big margin of error – this allows you to progress even if all the item isn’t lit up.
Tangrams are one of the more logical, thinking puzzles you will encounter. After collecting a certain amount of pieces in the exploration part of the game, you will be tasked with trying to fit all the pieces within a set shape in order to create an object in the mind-world. I really enjoyed these as they offered a bit of a challenge as you can rotate them and there is no indication if you have done it right or wrong until the end. I don’t like it when these puzzles usually ‘snap’ into place as soon as you drop them – that just defeats the object of having it as a puzzle. I’m glad this game doesn’t do that.
Exploration and collection:
So, with the puzzles out of the way, what’s left? Exploration and running away – these are the two parts I personally didn’t like. The common denominator here is the controls – Emma moves too slow and occasionally she will refuse to ‘jog’ and instead walk at a snail’s pace, this makes getting from point A to B a lot less enjoyable in my opinion. You are tasked with auto-jumping onto platforms, trying not to land on a platform that’s about to fall, using helping hands to carry you up walls and run away from the evil ‘gooey’ hands. Now, if the controls were solid and a little faster then I wouldn’t have any issues, but the number of times I jumped off a platform and into space as Topsy rescued me was quite a lot. Similarly, when being carried by the hands up a wall, if you don’t press X at the exact moment you touch the top, you’ll fall right back down and have to start again.
However, I’m willing to look past all the control issues, apart from the walking speed, but the main issue I had was with the ‘running away’ segments. These sections are very strict with their timings. If you don’t set off and run in the correct direction as soon as the cutscene has ended, then you may as well restart the section. I died numerous times on these as I was tapped by the goo or I was a fraction of a second too late in reaching the end. I honestly had to look up one of the runs on YouTube as I died about 8 times and I honestly thought I was doing something wrong – I wasn’t, I just wasn’t moving the second I got control. This also leads to another issue with these parts – the non-skippable cutscenes.
Now, I don’t have an issue with non-skippable cutscenes as long as the second time you watch them, you can skip them. However, in Illusion: A Tale of the Mind, you can’t. So when you die by failing to outrun the black goo, you must wait a while for the game to reload the checkpoint, then you have a 1-2 min cutscene, then you can proceed to try again. Seeing as the game gets pretty frustrating, this doesn’t help at all. It’s one of the reasons my review for this is a little late, I had to take a break from it as it was annoying me just because I couldn’t skip it and get straight back into trying again.
As I mentioned above, Illusion: A Tale of the Mind looks really good. It’s a dark, twisted take on the mind of a troubled Carnival Strong Man as he recalls his time at home, in the war, and back in the Circus. You’ll find beautiful and vibrant environments combined with dark and twisted entities which have been planted there by the evil hypnotist. The character design is also really well done and all the close-ups of Euclide, Emma and Topsy are great. Sound-wise, the music is really well done and a perfect fit for the game and I personally liked the voice acting. Sure, there were times when Emma sounded like she was reading off a script and not acting naturally, but overall I was impressed with the voices for an indie title.
The only issue I had with the voices in Illusion: A Tale of the Mind is linked to my above complaint about the ‘running away’ segments. You can’t skip when people are talking and you can’t even move when you activate the secret gramophones you are tasked with finding. It’s like the developers are forcing you to listen to what’s being said because they are proud of it – and they should be as it’s a great little game – but as a gamer, we should be free to move on or skip things if we wish too.
Don’t get me wrong – I actually really enjoyed playing this game. Sure, there are a lot of frustrating parts where you are forced to sit through the same cutscene every time you die, there are puzzles that are a bit hard to figure out, and the walking speed of Emma is about as slow as you can get. But, the game has a very interesting story, great artwork, decent voice acting, and a rather unique setting as you journey through the mind of a sad, depressed father who is being overrun by evil entities which are out to eliminate every shred of thoughts about his current life. The good thing is, you don’t really need to follow the story if you don’t want to – so anyone can enjoy the game (other than the running away parts) as a puzzle platformer with an interesting setting. However, I’m hoping they bring out a sequel or some DLC as the ending opens it up for one and I hate that as it feels like the game is incomplete – especially if we never see one.
Illusion: A Tale of the Mind is a fun puzzle-platformer with some very frustratingly strict timed segments and confusing puzzles. The overall story of the game, the setting, the audio, and the visuals are all amazing and work really well together – It’s just a shame that our protagonist walks as fast as a snail as she takes in everything that’s around her. Issues aside though, the game was fun to play and interesting to follow. I’d recommend this to people who like puzzle platformers where the emphasis is on the story and the four puzzle types I mentioned in my review. I also love a good story with an emotional aspect, Illusion: A Tale of the Mind didn’t fail to deliver on this either…
Sadly, Illusion: a Tale of the Mind has been delisted from console platforms for a while now, meaning the only place you can pick it up is on Steam (for a very low price). I’m hoping that it’ll return to consoles one day, maybe as an ‘enhanced’ edition on the current generation, taking advantage of higher resolutions and framerates along with visual enhancements.
Illusion: A Tale of the Mind£3.99
- Gorgeous graphics
- Interesting story and setting for the game
- Four interesting puzzle types repeated throughout
- Great soundtrack and decent voice acting
- It has a floating, talking stuffed bunny rabbit!
- 'Run away' segments are too strict
- Emma walks too slow
- No option to skip dialogue or cutscenes
- Ending is open for a sequel (I don't like games that do this as I feel no satisfaction)