Sometimes a neat idea doesn’t need to be any more than that. She Remembered Caterpillars employs a straightforward concept that tasks players with guiding colored characters through colored obstacles, then pushes it about as far as the basic notion can withstand, expanding on complications in clever — if sometimes clunky — ways that should provide enough entertainment for fans of puzzle games. Odd choices in story and atmosphere that deal with loss and regret don’t connect very well with the otherwise charming gameplay, but who plays these for the narrative anyway?
The goal of She Remembered Caterpillars is all about maneuvering a group of pikmin-like “gammies” onto specific platforms that activate propellers on their heads which allow them to fly away. The catch is that in order to reach these spaces, they must traverse a twisted plant structure filled with passable and impassable objects usually related to their color. For instance, a red bridge can only be crossed by a red gammie — or one of a color that contains red, such as orange or purple — and a blue arch is passable only to gammies who contain no blue. Thanks to looping level designs and tricky placements, getting from point A to B is never as simple as it first seems, and the developers do a nice job of setting up expectations, then exploiting them.
The systems at work here aren’t very complex, needing only one button and an analog stick, so the success of She Remembered Caterpillars all comes down to how clever the level designs can be. They do the job fairly well, presenting players with the entire layout of a stage, which allows them to approach the problem in the way they best see fit, whether through careful consideration or trial and error. Difficulty ramps up at a steady pace, with early puzzles staying focused on exploring a particular idea, while later stages employ everything at their disposal, incorporating a bevy of potential moving parts. There are times when the sheer number of variables can get a little intimidating — especially with an increased number of gammies, or stations that drain and bestow color — but for the most part, She Remembers Caterpillars keeps things relatively focused.
The forty “chapters” are grouped into bunches which often explore a specific idea, then iterate on it to a refreshingly restrained degree that never overstays its welcome. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, so it’s nice to see that the developers kept things lean. These concepts aren’t abandoned after their time in the spotlight, but rather are then used in combination with others as the game progresses, making those last levels really feel like an amalgamation of everything learned. It’s a nice progression that may never ‘wow,’ but adequately serves the purpose of teasing one’s brain.
A few minor quibbles do hold She Remembered Caterpillars back a bit, however. While the hand-drawn art style that comprises backgrounds is quite beautiful, there are times when the ornateness gets in the way of object recognition. In a game that revolves around color, the sprawling palettes and multitude of details can make stages feel busier than perhaps they should be, allowing gammies to get lost and certain obstacles to go unrecognized until they are run into, which can then necessitate some frustrating backtracking. This latter bit is compounded by imprecise movement controls that often send the gammie in an unintended direction. The lack of any sort of ‘death’ or game over screen lessens the annoyance, but simply getting around doesn’t feel very good, even if it ultimately works.
Lastly, a story involving a young woman whose father is dying seems like a strange choice for a game with cute plant creatures. Each stage is introduced with depressing dialogue about childhood regrets and strained relationships, but to what purpose? How does that fit with the roly-poly flora that playfully spin off into the air after nestling into a leaf? There seems to be too much of a disconnect between the narrative and the gameplay, as if the former was shoehorned in after the latter was developed. This doesn’t wreck the enjoyment had by solving puzzles, but it does detract from the overall vibe, as the story’s issues are hard seriously when plump vegetable people bounce around a colorful world without a care.
Nevertheless, puzzle games are played for puzzles, and She Remembers Caterpillars comes through in that regard decently enough.