Though its attempt at exploring the pitfalls of a long-distance relationship winds up coming off as a bit too paper-thin, Lightning Rod Games’ A Fold Apart still manages to provide modest engagement for puzzle solvers. A clever folding mechanic that demands players examine and understand two sides of a situation works as a nice metaphor and bends the mind just enough to overcome a simplistic narrative and slightly plodding gameplay.
A Fold Apart spends nearly as much time developing its premise as it does on actual gameplay. I say “premise,” because there really isn’t much of a story to speak of; one half of a couple has accepted an architect job far from home, putting a strain on what seemed to be a fairy-tale romance — it never gets much deeper than that. Conversations via text lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and reconsideration, and there are some delicate touches in portraying the difficulty in substituting mere digital words for face-to-face communication. However, the actual dialogue comes across as having been written for toddlers. At no time do these representations of human beings ever feel like actual characters; no personalities are developed, and no subtleties in motivation are layered in to make their plight any more interesting than a standard “wish you were here” back and forth.
This relationship is expressed in the broadest terms, and as such, it’s hard to get sucked into the drama, let alone take away anything meaningful. Mileage will of course vary, as with any story, but it’s likely players will get out of A Fold Apart what they bring in (though even having been in a long-distance relationship, there was little to be garnered by me from the overly simplified depiction). Unfortunately, no matter your romantic history, everyone will be subjected to many slow, laborious walks that force them to trudge along and occasionally stop to sit through trite, cutesy exchanges. Again, these moments take up a great deal of one’s gameplay time, and though the world is a visually pleasant one that gives off a moving comic-like vibe with paper cells flowing in and out, it’s hard not to want to get back to the meat of the experience: puzzle solving.
Luckily, this is where A Fold Apart finds itself on more solid and entertaining ground, even if a few wrinkles mar the otherwise smooth concept. The setup here finds the player-controlled character wandering through a dreamscape-like part of their subconscious, looking to overcome obstacles and gulfs in order to reach a starry goal. In order to do that, the world must be folded like a piece of paper in order to bring platforms together or flip things around so that they make some sense and move on. It’s a mechanic that seems especially ripe for forcing players to change perspectives and think about the spaces involved, as each scenario can also be flipped, revealing a back side with additional platforms and other items that might be useful if folded into the front.
Early on, the novelty is introduced with great potential that makes A Fold Apart feel distinctly fun, as one wonders just how clever the developers can get with this. Nothing presented is particularly difficult, but there are a few smile-inducing solutions that should keep players eager to see what’s next. Over the course of the three or so hours the experience takes, some additional abilities are bestowed, such as rotating the screen or folding diagonally. These new tools definitely keep things fresh, even if they also sometimes feel like distractions from core elements that may have run out of steam. Interestingly, every time it seems that one particular mechanic is gaining momentum, the story beats butt in and push the player on to something new. Variety is the spice of life, but simply introducing new elements into a relationship isn’t going to make it last, and eventually the luster of A Fold Apart starts to wear off.
The reasons for this stem from that aforementioned plodding gameplay and some touchy analog stick controls. Characters move like molasses, and while that might support the increasingly depressing situation they find themselves in overcoming obstacles, it also creates a sluggish feeling that makes even climbing over a simple block in the path feel like a chore. In addition, it can be tricky when using an analog stick to make diagonal folds, so much so that there were times when I utilized the generous hint system simply so I could cleanly make a move without further struggle and frustration.
Nevertheless, those who can look past these wrinkles will otherwise find a fairly pleasant diversion, even if they might be left wanting more. A Fold Apart has some good ideas, and though they might not feel fully explored in favor of concentrating on story elements, there are enough layers to see promise of a bright future.