Though the Wii U is certainly playing third fiddle in this generation’s console wars, Nintendo can rest easy in the knowledge that their under-performing machine has already acquired an enviable catalogue of system exclusives. Yet whilst The Fall may be a port from last year's PC original, its appearance here, rather than on the indie-friendly rival machines, is another feather in Nintendo’s cap.
For a platform festooned with anthropomorphic mushrooms and dancing cats, The Fall is custom built to catch attentions from those idly browsing the Wii U’s online shop front. With its dark, foreboding, near-monochromatic art work, it’s a title closer to 2010’s disquieting indie favourite Limbo or last year's darkly alluring The Swapper than anything else on its new home platform.
Beyond its distinctive graphical style, The Fall’s trump card is in its writing. Its no-bullshit intro finds an astronaut hurtling through space before crash landing on a mysterious planet. Seemingly unconscious, his all-purpose suit takes over in an effort to revive and save him and so players find themselves in control of ARID, the suit’s AI, rather than the spaceman himself. What follows is a tale of the cracked line between robotic law and human intuition that could easily serve as the touch-paper for a sci-fi novel in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick.
The Fall’s most interesting concept is its level-up system. ARID is given basic control of her human cargo at first, the idea being that more complex and powerful abilities should remain in human hands for as long as possible. However, protocol locks are over-ridden when the spaceman’s life is threatened, allowing ARID to gain extra powers, level up and progress. The conundrum then is that ARID must frequently put her human occupant in mortal danger in order to better protect him with the advanced powers doing so unlocks.
It is, however, not a player-led moral dilemma but a story-prescribed one. The Fall isn’t a game with branching outcomes or difficult choices, but rather a platform puzzle game with point and click elements and a story that’s as pre-ordained as most other video games. Yet as a plot point to hang a mature storyline onto, it’s a steadfast one with few equals in its field. A solid script – and solid voice acting – ensures The Fall is on a level way above most games in these regards.
The nuts and bolts of gameplay are less ambitious, relying on fairly standard puzzle platforming elements. Yet developers Over The Moon have created some truly ingenious head-scratchers throughout the short duration of the game. A central test chamber, where ARID must try to complete a series of domestic and civil tasks whilst feigning subservience is particularly well executed, with the answers often making players second guess the game and themselves.
It’s all over fairly quickly, which may disappoint some, but for its relatively meagre price it gives a good return in playtime. Yet its ending is something that will likely last a lot longer in the mind, while other more ambitious games often seem to fade as soon as the credits have rolled. However, as a post-game ‘to be continued’ lets us know, at least one more game is being planned.
Either way, The Fall is a compelling piece of storytelling in a medium that usually struggles to engage players beyond the surface spectacle. More importantly, it’s a very good game in its own right but with both aspects combined it makes for a compelling case to dust off your Wii U pad.