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Ugly Review | Reflecting on the New Puzzle Platformer




Ugly Review written by SilentSigns


Ugly

PC/XBOX/Switch

9/14/23

Team Ugly/Graffiti Games


They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and this must be true because I've been looking forward to puzzle platformer Ugly since I first laid eyes on it last year. It was love at first sight. Can this title live up to my lofty expectations or is it true to its name instead? Let's talk about it!


Ugly game first boss
Bosses in Ugly are all about the puzzle platforming!


So, what was it about Ugly that piqued my interest so many months ago? This game tells the tale of a distinct looking nobleman and his dark, tormented past through elaborate mirror puzzles and creative collectible cutscenes. While I don't want to spoil too much for you (because discovery and surprise are always half the fun), I will say it takes a special kind of game to illicit an emotional response from me, especially without uttering a single word.


Before taking on this challenge, there are a good deal of options that allow for greater accessibility and can improve your gameplay experience, such as a colorblind mode, optional hints, directional aid and visible controls. I began the game without hints, but quickly decided I would rather enjoy my experience with some guidance and was able to turn hints on mid-playthrough without issue. I appreciated that these hints didn't hold my hand, merely providing a bit of an outline of the puzzles with some subtle indications without actually giving away the whole thing. It might sound minor, but it allowed for me to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment after solving a puzzle, even if i needed a little guidance from time to time.


You're introduced to the core mechanic of the game nearly immediately upon entering gameplay. Our nameless protagonist can create a mirror portal of sorts that splits him into an original and a clone. Clones can be projected on a horizontal or vertical axis and will move in the opposite direction of the original. Once a clone is created, you're able to swap control between the two versions in order to perform all sorts of mind-bending platforming feats. You can recall your mirror at any time, at which point your clone self will disappear until the next mirror portal is placed.


Ugly game review: locked door
Ugly is broken up into puzzle rooms that are unlocked by obtaining keys

The game is divided up into multiple areas that are further divided into smaller, easily digestible puzzle rooms and progression is fairly linear. Within each puzzle room, there will be a key to obtain, which unlocks the next room. Eventually, unlocking all doors will lead to a boss and a new location within the dark recesses of our character's mind.


If you find yourself stuck in a room with no escape, you can reset a puzzle by taking a swig of an undisclosed substance. Look, I don't want to make assumptions, but let's just say that when you "come to" the world is spinning and you're back where you started.


Bosses are more platforming and puzzle-based than combat heavy, so if you're worried about the challenge level, just make sure you keep your wits about you and you'll be just fine. There is no punishment for defeat other than beginning the battle again, so the stakes are quite low.


A scribbled memory from Ugly
Scribbled memories help tell the story in Ugly

Looking for some added challenge? Turn off hints, locate all the secret rooms to unlock an alternate ending or collect all of the illustrated memories to put together the full picture. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of challenge in this title, and it will definitely require a lot of brain power to get through even some of the most unassuming rooms, but every victory feels thoroughly rewarding.


If you aren't hooked by the puzzle mechanics, the art in Ugly is sure to grab your attention. The mixed-media style works extraordinarily well here and each room warrants a moment to stop and take in all the miniscule details that make it so stylish. Each puzzle is meticulously crafted and some even have multiple solutions that allow some room for creativity and even replayability. When I needed to take a step away to process a puzzle after a few failed attempts, I would put my controller down and carefully examine everything. From squirmy inch worms traversing the banisters to dripping faucets and swinging chandeliers, it felt like no pixel on my screen was ever wasted. The overall tone is deliciously dark and twisted, like most of the movies and tv shows I loved as a child, and apparently still love as an adult. And, speaking of childhood, the scribbled memories were so primitive yet told the story so poignantly, the way only the eyes of childhood memories can. Raw, life altering memories unfitlered by adult excuses and maturity. Painful. Real.


Then there's the soundtrack. Ugly takes a mostly sparse and atmospheric approach, with a few stellar exceptions like the raucous boss battles and the piano-based opening theme. Just because the other tracks are ambient, does not mean the sound design does not pack a punch, however. The haunting piano lines that run through, coupled with tense strings and fantastic sound effects sprinkled over top make this a "volume up" kind of game. As I mentioned previously, there is no narration throughout this title, but it was never missed. Voice acting would have taken focus away from the pitter patter of our protagonist's feet, the dripping of distant water, and the tightening of swinging ropes.


Ugly game review: first section
One of the many detailed corridors in Ugly

Those discoverable, collectable illustrated scenes feature some peculiar grunting and discordant strings that showcase the trauma experienced by our character perfectly.


Ugly takes self-reflection to the next level. Not only do we see our protagonist's memories unfold before our eye, but it also beckons us to take a look at our own perceptions and preconceived notions of what a person or a puzzle can be. It doesn't hurt that the puzzle design is absolutely stellar.


For these reasons and many more, I am awarding Ugly a Golden Genie Lamp of Approval. Few games can pull off puzzle platforming this well without approaching frustrating territory. The art is exceptional, the story is poignant, the puzzles are tricky and satisfying, and the score is breathtakingly gorgeous. Games just don't get much more beautiful than Ugly.




Pros:

+ Unique mirror puzzle mechanic

+ Satisfying gameplay

+ Stellar soundtrack

+ Great hint system and accessibility

+ Beautiful art design


Cons:

- Game is on the shorter side

- Puzzles may be challenging for some

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