Four Sided Fantasy (a title which should have at least one hyphen but annoyingly doesn't) is an Xbox One puzzle platformer that features the unique ability to travel from any side of the screen to the other. You'll have to think in a whole new way to reach the end of this colorful adventure.
Four sides, two protagonists
A Kickstarter success story in 2014, Four Sided Adventure arrived on PlayStation 4 and Steam last year. At long last, it has traveled from those sides over to Xbox One.
When the game begins, players control an unnamed male protagonist as he moves across an outdoorsy environment. Initially, he can only run and jump like in any 2D platformer but soon our hero meets a similarly nameless lady and gains a new power.
Four Sided Fantasy is built entirely around the ability to pass through any of the four sides of the screen and come out of the other side (much like in the classic Windows Phone game Eyez). Doing so switches between the male and female character – basically, they tag out.
To lock the screen, you hold either trigger button. This creates static around the edges of the screen. Not only does locking stop the screen from scrolling, it also lets you pass through an open space on any side of the screen and come out of the other one.
All of the game's puzzles are built around this mind-bending mechanic. Simpler situations simply throw a thin wall in front of your character, forcing you to lock and then walk through the left side of the screen, appearing on the other side of the wall. But things often get more complex, forcing you to lock the screen in certain places or experiment to find a solution.
As you progress through the game's five chapters, new mechanics mix up the puzzles a bit. For instance, the second chapter causes gravity to reverse whenever your heroes pass through the side of the screen. You also have to pick up color-coded batteries that unlock matching barriers, and then avoid walls of static and flying static projectiles that cause instant death.
The controls are simple enough, but they do have one big flaw: the game can't handle diagonal control inputs. Should you accidentally hold the analog stick in a slightly diagonal direction while jumping through the air, your character will shudder or abruptly stop moving left or right.
Games designed for analog controllers should be able to handle it when the sticks aren't held in a perfectly cardinal direction, especially one like Four Sided Fantasy that makes no use of up or down. Thankfully, the game also supports the D-Pad for movement. It's much easier to avoid diagonals with a D-Pad, so I recommend keeping your thumb off the analog stick.
Four Sided Fantasy has a delightful 2D art style. The backgrounds feature numerous layers of parallax scrolling and excellent use of color and gradients. The game also plays some cool tricks with camera cuts and distance, sometimes zooming way in our out when players pass behind foreground objects. The only visual flaw I noticed is a distinct lack of character reflections when the camera pulls back during an early lakeside scene.
Story and theme are where Four Sided Fantasy really drops the ball. The title elicits thoughts of a fantasy adventure, right? But the game has absolutely no story to speak. You just hop directly in as the male lead, and then team up with the female lead without a hint of dialog or narrative.
The visuals aren't entirely devoid of symbolism, and you do see some video-related imagery throughout the game. The screen lock causes static build up around the screen periphery; the word REC and a date appear in the corner of the screen; walls of static harm our heroes; and you'll occasionally encounter stationary video cameras on walls.
Not that every platformer needs a story, but it's always nice to have some kind of motivation for going through a game other than just to finish it. Even just a tiny hint of story would've been welcome. The game does end with a bit of trippiness, but still. With a little more time and ambition, the fantasy could've meant something.
Progress loss bug
At the time of this writing, the Xbox One version of Four Sided Fantasy has an unfortunate bug in which players can lose all of their progress. Keep in mind the game can be beaten in one sitting, as a first playthrough should take two to three hours at most. A speedrun will clock in under an hour.
Due to time constraints, I exited to the main menu. From there, the options are to Play Game or Level Select. After looking at the level select, I chose Play Game, thinking it would drop me back into the current level. Instead, it started me at the beginning and lost my progress. I had to start over.
And yet, trying the Play Game option a couple of times since then, it has worked as intended. Publisher Serenity Forge is aware of the issue, so hopefully it can stomp out the bug soon. In the meantime, the safest option is to resume via the Level Select rather than Play Game.
The two hardest Achievements require you to beat the game without exceeding a certain number of screen locks and screen wraps (actually passing through the side of the screen). This will require either plenty of practice and memorization or following a video guide. I really wish the game displayed counts for locks and wraps though, because it's annoying counting hundreds of moves on your own.
Overall impressions of Four Sided Fantasy
Four Sided Fantasy is a fairly solid platformer that boasts strong art design and a core puzzle mechanic that you don't see very often. The game has a nice breezy length that keeps it from wearing out its welcome.
- The unique screen lock and swap mechanics allow for lots of tricky puzzles.
- Beautiful environments with lots of depth and colors.
- Nice and short.
- The analog controls can't handle diagonal inputs.
- No story or real meaning behind this fantasy.
I found the screen lock and wrap mechanics repetitive at times, and I definitely wished for a story and greater meaning from the adventure. Still, considering the $9.99 price, puzzle platforming fans might still want to give this fantasy a shot.
Xbox One review code provided by the publisher.