At first glance, UNDERSCORE and Joy Brick’s brand new puzzle adventure, Aliisha: The Oblivion of Twin Goddesses, shows plenty of promise in how it’s been designed from the ground up for two players to indulge in lots of cooperative sleuthing action that makes full use of the Nintendo Switch’s unique range of abilities.
Here we’ve got a puzzler that allows two friends to work together in order to solve a series of impressively atmospheric multiroom head-scratchers, each assuming the role of one of two sisters, Aisha and Lisha, who’ve just stumbled upon a huge underground temple full of mysteries and ancient magic. What’s most neat here is that one player uses their Switch in handheld mode whilst the other gets busy with their Joy-Cons in docked mode — using a required second Switch — in order to explore the world on offer, making sure that the console’s gyro controls and touchscreen are all put to work as you push through the campaign.
On paper it’s a strong idea that starts off well, with the sisters splitting up as the headstrong adventurer Aisha heads straight down into the bowels of the game’s labyrinthian complex whilst her more worrisome twin, Lisha, remains outside, choosing instead to send her AI buddy, AMBU, along to help out. After a brief introductory sequence, players are handed control of Aisha and AMBU and must utilise all of their available skills in order to progress a reasonably interesting main plot that revolves as much around the developing relationship between the two siblings as it does the legends and folklore you’ll discover underground.
Between Aisha’s exploration skill that highlights objects in the environment or gives you subtle clues as to which direction to head next, and AMBU’s ability to fly around, scan, and feed back detailed info on the rooms through which you wander, there’s plenty here to keep players busy. However, this is a game that, whilst very obviously having had a lot of time and care poured into it, suffers from a series of issues that make for a rather frustrating and plodding adventure overall.
The biggest issue straight out of the gate is that Aliisha: The Oblivion of Twin Goddesses offers its headline co-op mode in local wireless flavour only, insisting you have two copies of the game and two Switches at hand in order to fully enjoy its asymmetrical gameplay. We get where the devs are coming from, they’ve got a unique experience here that works best for two players if they can meet these demands, but restricting access to co-op in such a way certainly puts a big barrier up to plenty of potential players and it’s a real shame we couldn’t have had some sort of online or splitscreen alternative, too.
Yes, there’s also a solo mode included, and we tooled around with it a little for this review, but solo play here highlights the game’s other main issue, an overall sluggishness in traversal, in interactions with environments, and in switching between Aisha and AMBU, which you’ll need to do constantly if you’re playing alone. We’re not sure how much of this is tied to a frame rate that struggles a little at times, but just moving around puzzle rooms, switching between characters, reading text, manipulating objects and so on is far too slow for our liking, and it creates a simmering sense of constant frustration that’s then heightened by puzzles that can be far too fiddly and time-consuming to solve and focus a little too much on meticulously searching every inch of environments until something clicks.
As much as we’ve definitely been impressed by a few of the labyrinthian problems the game throws at you, with some huge puzzles that require you to manipulate large environments, closely study the game’s lore and work well together in order to succeed, there is a lack of polish that pervades almost everything you do, with a clunky interface and almost mean lack of guidance or help that makes for some seriously testing times as you push through. It all just needed more refinement in how characters pick up and interact with objects, a little more care in how touchscreen aspects are implemented and some way of calling for even a little bit of help when you’re absolutely stumped on a massive puzzle with the feeling you’re never, ever going to figure out where to go next.
We like our puzzle games tough, and we don’t mind getting caught up or stumped now and then, but there’s a constant sense here that things could have used more direction, that the way forward is sometimes absolutely baffling because the game is failing to make itself clear, rather than any actual puzzle-smarts.
There’s also a total lack of real eureka moments, or times when you sit back and feel pleased and impressed at how a problem has been resolved. When you put all of this stuff together, the sluggishness, the clunkiness, the lack of clarity, and the barriers erected around that co-op mode, well, you’ve got a game that tries hard, works well in places, but just fails to feel fun or slick enough to really appeal in the end.
There’s no doubt that there’s fun to be had here for incredibly patient puzzle fans (who’ve got multiple Switch consoles, two copies of the game to hand, plus a willing co-op partner), but for everyone else, things get way too frustrating — and well before you get near to the end of what’s on offer. And solo mode feels like a diluted alternative that’s far too cumbersome and time-consuming due to the constant need to switch between characters, slowing everything down even further.
Still, there’s a unique and intriguing co-op kernel here that mixes up your typical multiplayer interaction patterns admirably. We’d love to see the devs revisit this idea in the future, smooth out the rough edges, make things a little easier to read and navigate, and they could have an absolute banger on their hands. It just doesn’t work well enough here, though.
Aliisha: The Oblivion of Twin Goddesses is a bright and colourful co-op puzzle adventure that brings some unique and interesting ideas to the table. There are some decent puzzles, likeable characters, a reasonably engaging story, and we love to see games going out on a limb to incorporate the Switch’s abilities into their setup. However, there’s an overall clunkiness and lack of polish here, too, with little to no obvious direction in most puzzles, and far too much focus on meticulously studying every inch of rooms, resulting in an adventure that’s too often an exercise in frustration. It’s a shame as well that co-op mode is only available via local play that requires two consoles and two copies of the game, as going it solo is a much less enjoyable experience. Admirable, then, but flawed.
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