Try to imagine this scenario: you are playing a round of chess with an old rival. You observe his carefully positioned pieces, a few masterful moves later you have him under the gun, check! In the same moment as you grin with satisfaction, someone squirts you in the eye with lemon juice. You reel away from the chessboard, grumbling some choice words and fanning your face frantically with your hands. When your vision clears, you notice your chess opponent has moved himself out of the jam. You maneuver him back into peril like the true problem solver that you are, check! Once again the stinging citric acids gush past your eyelids. As strange as this scenario may sound, it best describes my playtime with Albert and Otto. A platform game that loves to present you with one creative puzzle after another. With one significant caveat, right at the moment where you triumphantly maneuver through a massive mechanical obstacle, you get hit with platform pains. These irritating platformer deathtraps will wear the rubber on your controller’s reset buttons in sheer minutes. How does that old refrain go? No pain, no gain?
Albert and Otto, like Limbo, displays a minimalist appearance, lacking fine details in favor of an over all grim mood. White snowed over locations contrast with stark blacks and muted grays. Regardless, aesthetically the game is not a drab affair. Lonely locations, and the game’s simplistic atmospheric sounds succeed in creating a haunting and desolate setting. Strange hawks, giant wolves, deadly spikes, and other pitfalls disturb the otherwise empty wilderness. Despite the deserted appearance, it’s merely a backdrop; as this adventure is designed challenge your reflexes and wits. Death and failure are always a footstep away.
Some difficult platformers may require you to speed off a platform of ice, with a precision jump to expertly land your pinky toe onto a 2mm wide platform. Followed by an immediate double jump onto the far wall, bouncing back over spikes in fractions of milliseconds without making a mistake. Albert and Otto creators surely laugh at such trivial nonsense. You will be expected to perform such platforming tasks not just once, but a handful of times in sequence, with little regard for checkpoints. While the game’s most recent update did add additional save points throughout, there are still many areas that are rife with frustration. These perilous sections require constant precision jumping, combined with other near instantaneous responses to pass to the next challenge. For example, one area has you floating down an icy river on a WW2-era crate. While maintaining pace with this moving crate, you will need to hop off and use your powers to levitate objects like boxes and snowballs. Inertia will affect your levitated object, making it difficult to maneuver them onto small switches while jumping and moving, without them (or you) tumbling over into the river below. But wait! There’s more danger to manage: imagine these precise drop offs while jumping over other platforms and avoiding spiked obstacles with extreme precision, while your crate continues to float down the river. This particular sequence has no saves, and I must have thrown my controller in disgust more than once trying to get past this area. These frustrating moments are few, but they did detract from my overall enjoyment.
The charming elements of Albert’s adventure outweigh its sparse sour moments, thanks to its physics based puzzles. Starting out with the obvious puzzle types that require you to push a box over a switch or pushing it to jump to a higher ledge. Complexity then spirals up towards larger scale puzzles requiring you to push, pull, place, or fling multiple objects to key locations to remove obstacles in order to continue. These puzzles are the highlight of this game, with some spanning multiple screens with many moving parts. One such contraption has you maneuvering a magnetized overheard cart in position with a heavy weight. The reason for this setup? The three boxes you will need to proceed to the next area are guarded inside a giant wolf’s cage. When the door drops your trap has to connect effectively with the wolf first, and not you. As these puzzles became more intricate and complex, the more I enjoyed solving them. As your abilities grow, so do the puzzles, and eagerly anticipating the next big puzzle was the norm during my play through.
There is not much in terms of direct story telling going on. Clues and impressions are sparingly given to give you an idea of where the story wants to take you. You play Albert, an unusual boy in search of his missing sister. Initially, Albert has the use of his slow loading single fire gun to defend himself. As you explore you come across Otto, a red stuffed toy that belonged to his sister. Otto’s lifeless eyes disguise true usefulness for problem solving. With Otto on your back you can now double jump, or in time levitate and move objects with the touch of a button. Keep in mind that putting Otto down means you will lose all the special abilities he offers. There are times where you will need to decide to put him down. Otto can be left on a switch to keep it activated. Or placed by a switch to electrically activate it, but plan carefully and ensure you get Otto back before moving on. If Otto or Albert die, the game is over, making each perilous complicated puzzle more challenging to overcome. While it is clear that Otto is no ordinary toy, what caused it to be so special? Albert’s sister will appear and vanish mysteriously, is she a hallucination? Or some kind of spectral reminder of a sister that once was? It is also possible that Albert isn’t everything he appears to be either. As he searches for his sister, homes, woods, and forest landscapes give way to German Wehrmacht era vehicles and weaponry. These details are significant but unexplained, however intriguing they maybe.
One thing we do know is that this game is being delivered in episodic format. So more answers will come, should you be inclined to put up with the hair-pulling segments of this game. I developed a dysfunctional love/hate relationship with this game. I want more Albert and Otto, I do, but some of these hyper frustrating segments made me put the game down for the rest of the day. These overly difficult sections significantly detract from the enjoyment of previous well designed segments. But with future episodes planned, I hope developer Nikolas Kostic is able to smooth out the experience. Ensuring that the level of challenge is maintained, but balanced with well placed save points, and a lesser emphasis on carrying out lengthy acrobatic feats without dying.