Without spoiling too much, Drew and the Floating Labyrinth is a game about loss. Loss of home, loss of self, and, to a degree, loss of innocence. The titular character hops from block to block, following clues in colors, shadows, and two-dimensional projections to her home, which is always just barely visible in the distance. It's a platformer—probably my least favorite genre—but the unique hand-drawn animation in a three-dimensional setting and the promise of story to come kept me playing despite my dislike for the genre.
I played the demo of the game at PAX Prime for a couple minutes, but struggled with the camera controls on the provided Xbox controller. With a mouse and keyboard, I had no trouble with the camera—the controls were simple and intuitive, and were composed primarily of jumping and rotating the camera. The gameplay is simplistic but does vary in style and difficulty. Just when I grew tired of a mechanic like following the color on a block to the next step in the chain, a new trick would pop up—there was enough variation in the puzzles to keep me from getting bored most of the time. A few of the puzzles, in particular the section where the player must rotate the camera to see sides of blocks only visible from certain angles, tested me beyond the limits of my patience. There was a good deal of cussing and angrily storming away from the computer until I reached the point where I could skip to the end of that section—it felt like I was wimping out, but I gave myself a pass due to my dislike for the genre. Overall, the game felt comfortable in difficulty, neither too easy nor too hard, although individual puzzles sometimes fell on either side of the spectrum.
The game's main appeal was visual—the main character is two dimensional, hand drawn in black and white, and sticks out against the bright colors of the three-dimensional blocks and environments. There's a definite sense of detachment about Drew—rotating the camera while looking at her is jarring, as her model changes with the angles. This isn't a fault or limitation of the animation style, as it actually works rather well with Drew's sense of loss and displacement. Beyond this uniqueness, there isn't much to say about the game graphically; it gets the job done, but the environments are sparse and simple (again, not necessarily a fault—the openness of the world add to Drew's sense of loneliness), but not particularly interesting. The music and voice acting are nice, though the automated hints can get aggravating as they repeat the same vague line for however long it takes you to master jumping from one invisible block to the next.
Story is easily the most important part of any game for me—lack of a story will drive me away faster than frustrating gameplay, and I've been known to sit through aggravating games solely to find out what will happen next. I was intrigued by the snippets of story you discover throughout Drew—I had some inklings of where the game was going, though the big reveal did surprise me and affect me on a more personal level than I expected. It's not revolutionary or even necessarily touching, but the reason behind Drew's adventure in the floating labyrinth does reveal a good deal about her character. The ending falls a little on the preachy side of inspirational—there is definitely room for interpretation, but for this slightly cynical player the uplifting nature of the ending felt a little too loosely connected to the rest of the game. That being said, it's difficult to illustrate abstract concepts; the effort was appreciated and I'm glad that there was a story with an attempt at a larger statement, even if the statement itself didn't quite do it for me.
Drew and the Floating Labyrinth is a solid independent game. It isn't without flaws—its loose ending falls short of poignant and the gameplay can occasionally get repetitive or frustrating—but the experience of playing the game was interesting and inventive and the art style left a lasting impression. While this game in particular might not be to everyone's tastes, I'm interested to see how Dust Scratch Games' future work will develop.
Worth playing if you're a fan of puzzle-platformers, an ardent support of indie games, or a fan of seeing unique art styles in video games.