The Insight: Superliminal: The Sheer Beauty Of Carrying On While Being Trapped Within A Paradox Of Dreams

By Isaac Espinosa

As you make your way through various puzzles that force you to question reality, how far can you make it until you lose yourself to the dream? Developed and published by Pillow Castle, Superliminal is a puzzle game in which you traverse multiple dream-like levels, each with its own unique puzzle. However, all of them have a similar omnipotent theme: perspective and perception. These two factors are the key to solving Superliminal.

The story of Superliminal is that of an experiment gone horribly wrong. You’re taking part in Pierce Institute’s SomnaSculpt technology test, which gives dream therapy to patients in order to relieve their feelings of self doubt and loathing. However, as you complete the orientation for the program, things begin to unravel. It’s soon explained that you’ve become stuck in a paradox of dreams, and it’s up to you to solve the puzzler before you and escape, no matter how tough it may seem. At first, Superliminal appears to be an archetypal puzzle game that encourages you to reach the goal, but its message is so much more than that. It’s really about getting through the tough times and being able to move forward no matter how hard things get. 

The puzzles of Superliminal are all unique and interesting, like optical illusions taken to a whole new level. Each of the different dreams you step into uses perspective in order to reach the goal. Early on, the game illustrates this by having you mess with the size of certain objects. For example, chess pieces that may be far away look bigger than if they were close by. And that exact perspective holds –  if you grab the chess piece from afar, it suddenly becomes almost as large as the room you’re in. It’s really something you have to see for  yourself: the only way that the game can give you that wild level of shock happens once you understand its mechanics. Each level uses this mechanic to the fullest, from the level called Blackout, where you can make smaller objects like exit signs bigger in order to light up a dark room, or the level called Doll House, in which you have to maneuver through several house-shaped portals, altering their sizes so that you can continue on. The inventiveness of Superliminal is remarkable; its in-depth puzzle solving is something I’ve never seen before in a game! 

The only real flaw I can think of for Superliminal is that it’s a game that takes a lot of getting used to. The game does a good job of explaining how everything works, but it’s understandable that some of the puzzles throw you for a loop – because of how weird they seem. When the game hurled an optical illusion at me, I definitely wasn’t ready for how much it would take me by surprise. But this is barely even a flaw. Rather, I think that it adds to how uniquely compelling Superliminal is. That each puzzle is an optical illusion not only gives players a huge amount of satisfaction upon completing a room, it makes them think deeply in order to solve it. It’s like a riddle that grows more and more complex as the game unfolds, making that feeling of satisfaction even stronger as you continue on through every puzzle, especially in the later parts of the game. 

I truly couldn’t recommend this game more. It’s by far one of the most interesting, satisfying and challenging puzzle games I’ve ever played. It also has a fantastic message: never give up, on either the game or on yourself. This year has been quite the challenge for a lot of people around the world. And in times like these it’s important for us to continue striving, and to have hope that the coming year will be better for everyone. We’ve all been able to charge ahead, despite how bad 2020 has been. And when games like Superliminal encourage us to continue on, it is a marvelous sight  to behold. 

Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor.

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