Membrane – The Switch Island Review
Nearly two years on from the release of our beloved Switch and one of the worst parts still remains unchanged – the eShop. Of all the digital marketplaces out there, the Nintendo eShop has to be one of the most infuriating; from a design standpoint at least. Every day there seems to be a tidal wave of crap that floods the ‘Recent Releases’ section, most of it either being overpriced ports of mobile games or the type of shovelware that has been plaguing the Steam store for years now. The way the store is laid out means that unless you make an effort to go through all the recent releases as they come out, it can be a real pain in the jaxie to find those real gems of games that you may never have heard of otherwise. In fact, if you can’t be asked to do the due diligence, our American friends over at the ‘Talk Nintendo’ podcast do a great job of running down the list for you. Though as we found out in our recent episode of Desert Island Cartridges that they joined us for, it’s becoming an ever more difficult task to give these games the time they might deserve, purely because there are just too many. So on behalf of all of us here at The Switch Island I’d like to give a huge thanks to our Yankie friends who continue their great work in this thankless task. Rather you than me, boys!
So what’s an indie developer to do when their game is so easily be lost to the cacophony of noise that comes every day? Well on idea might be to offer the game on sale and hope you stand out in the slightly quieter section of the eShop. It’s a shame but currently that seems to be the best they can do. The silver lining however is that we the consumer are able to find some absolutely cracking games at some ludicrously cheap prices, and that’s exactly how I can across the game in today’s review; ‘Membrane’.
At first glance the self described “creative-action puzzler” from indie developer ‘Perfect Hat’ has all the look of a basic mobile puzzle game, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find a tightly designed and very well polished product that I’d argue is even worthy of a physical release; I’m looking at you Super Rare Games.
Essentially ‘Membrane’ is a single-screen, physics based puzzle game that sees you play as…well as a thing…a sort of triangle-with-legs type thing (it doesn’t really matter), as you make your way through six areas of a human body, from the brain down through the face and throat, and all the way down the arm to the hand. Each areas has between six and ten sub stages that, in turn, each have two collectibles; some of which are suspiciously easy whereas the others are suitably fiendish.
As you navigate your little triangle man through the innards of this unsuspecting human body you have two main ways of reaching these collectibles; red squares or yellow triangles. Sounds thrilling I know, but wait till you hear what they’re for. The red squares are essentially building blocks; they’ll stick to surfaces and stack on top of each other, allowing you to build towers and bridges to reach your goal. The catch here is that your “ammunition” (for lack of a better word) is limited in terms of how many blocks you can have out at one time, and in most cases you won’t have enough to shoot them out carefree – you really have to think about where you decide to build. To that end we have the yellow triangles; here you have unlimited ammo and can shoot them out to destroy previously placed red blocks that will allow you to collect them again and replenish your supply. The triangles are also used to manipulate physics objects in the levels, whether it’s pushing giant balls around or moving electrical cables out of place, they are an essential part of solving most of the puzzles the game offers.
So far there’s not a whole lot to get excited about right? Wrong! Because what I haven’t touched on yet is what made this game so enjoyable to play through: there is no right answer. Yep, you heard that right, it’s a puzzle game that essentially doesn’t have a designed solution. Each level has an end goal sure, but how you achieve that goal is really up to you. Unlike other more conventional puzzle games, the way you solve these puzzles could be vastly different from what the developers intended. The open nature of the puzzles meant that I often found myself coming up with solutions that felt like I was winning one over on the game, it did an amazing job of making me feel so clever whenever I found a way to cross a gap that previously seemed impossible. But honestly that’s the beauty of the vision set out by the folks over at ‘Perfect Hat’; this game is all about trying different things and seeing what works, and for the most part it works like a charm. There were only a couple of times that this approach didn’t work for me – where I felt like I had beaten the level in a cheeky, almost underserved way – but because of the open ended nature of the puzzles, you might come up with a completely different solution and not have the same problems, so in the end it’s really not much of an issue.
Gameplay is first and foremost in ‘Membrane’, but the psychedelic style of the visuals and subtle yet powerful score is what really brings it all together. The simple 2D graphics and bold use of vibrant colours give the game a simple, yet stand-out look that has really stuck with me since I put the Switch down. The games animations are also really fluid and I only once had an issue with a few dropped frames. The developers arty background is on full display here, and the fact that they both have a background in music means that the score compliments the game in ways that aren’t obvious at first, but are admittedly near perfect once you start to think about it. All of this is also true for the story; told through a couple of brief cutscenes void of any dialogue, the story seems vague and obtuse at first, but by the end of the final cutscene I realised what had been happening and looked back on the game in a whole different light. Membrane embraces the kind of out-there storytelling that only a true indie game can, and I can’t stress just how much of a joy it was.
So there you go, that’s Membrane in a nutshell – a seemingly simple game that transcends expectations by oozing charm and clear passion from the developers. Like me, I’m sure many of you will disregard it outright (probably based on the screenshots that really fail to do it any justice), but to those of you who might I would really advice you to reconsider. It’s not a long game by any means, but if you give ‘Membrane’ the time of day I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.
Ok, so for a glowing review such as this I’m sure you’re wondering why I spent so long at the beginning complaining about the state of the eShop. Well it’s specifically because of the terrible layout that I’m sure many of you will never have even heard of this game – a tragedy to be sure. The only reason it came up on my radar was because I saw it on sale for less than £1! Let me stress that again; one measly pound gave me hours and hours of fantastic puzzle solving joy! I took a chance on this game, fully expecting it to be in the camp of mobile ports and shovelware, and yet came out with a gaming experience that will stay with me even as I go on to the next game. If Nintendo were maybe a bit more particular about what types of games they let onto the store I might have picked ‘Membrane’ up at full price, and you know what – it would have been more than worth it. I only wsh I could go back and pay the full amount, because that’s what this game deserves and more.
Bravo ‘Perfect Hat’! For your first console release, you really knocked it out of the park. And if I had to mark you down for anything, it’s that I didn’t want the game to end when it did. Maybe you’ll see fit to make an expansion set of more levels, or maybe even a sequel? Until then I’ll keep recommending ‘Membrane’ to anyone who’ll listen.