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YesterMorrow Is Putting Puzzles back in Platforming

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YesterMorrow Review

Developer: Bitmap Galaxy | Publisher: Blowfish Studios | Genre: Puzzle-Platformer | Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows 10, Nintendo Switch | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch


It takes a lot for a 2D platformer to feel distinct, especially when it exists in the ever-growing indie games space. In such a crowded field, a game has to basically run the table in doing everything right to stand out. Yestermorrow very nearly hits the jackpot, delivering lush visuals, a melancholy soundtrack, and solid 2D puzzle-platforming action that mixes up movement with fun abilities. Though beautiful and featuring several solid gameplay hooks, Yestermorrow stumbles in a few key areas.

Time After Time

There is an instant wistfulness apparent in Yestermorrow. There’s a little town, a quiet village, about to celebrate an annual festival. Player character Yui is an adorable little girl eager to pet the many adorable animals scattered around the town. Yui plays with her brother, chats with her mother, and is excited to see her father later in the day. The soundtrack is pleasant, and perfectly matches the dreamy, pixelated artwork and beautiful backgrounds.

But all of that is torn away in an instant, as during the festival Darkness assaults the village. In a surprising story beat, Yui fails to save her father. She wakes up several years in the future, in a ruined world full of predatory monsters and scared humans. But hope is not lost; Yui learns that she possesses the unique ability to harness the power of the Everlight and travel back in time, to when she was a child and the world was whole.

From there, Yui journey to several different islands and earns new Everlight powers. She expands her movement abilities and fights to change the future by fixing the past. Off the main path, there are dozens of collectibles to find, from story scrolls to Timekeeper artifacts, that expand YesterMorrow‘s surprisingly deep lore. YesterMorrow has a great story premise, simple and clean: it’s Light versus Dark, with the goal of saving not just Yui’s family but the entire civilization.

Pushing the Limit

Time travel in video games is something of a storied tradition. In YesterMorrow, there are shades of several Zelda games: A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons, and especially Ocarina of Time. And while it is thrilling to go from the blasted future to a vibrant and colorful past, the time travel aspect doesn’t have as much of an effect on puzzle-solving as players may expect. YesterMorrow is at its best when it forges its own path, creating devious platforming puzzles that require careful thought and precise movement to conquer.

Instead of being a 2D action game with exploration elements like Super Metroid, or a twitchy precision platformer like Spinch or Super Meat Boy, YesterMorrow is a blend of both worlds. Yui earns new abilities fairly frequently, including a double jump, a dash, and eventually the ability to pause time itself, freezing all enemies and obstacles onscreen. But these moves are rarely tied to combat, save for a frantic mad dash through hordes of Darkness late in the game. Instead, players use Yui’s moves to move from point A to point B in careful, considered bursts of puzzle-solving.

A player might have to board a moving platform, navigating walls of spikes, gusts of wind, and damaging barriers. At another point, Yui must slowly feel her way around a shadowy maze, lighting lamps to brighten her path so she doesn’t fall down a pit. Fortunately, checkpointing is frequent and there is no life system to contend with. Puzzles require a blend of dexterity and logic, in line with 2012’s Fez or the more recent Alwa’s Legacy. Combat is similarly logical. Yui doesn’t wield a sword or a bow and arrow to defeat her foes. Instead, Darkness-corrupted enemies are defeated by lobbing an Everlight grenade or simply dashing into them.

YesterMorrow has boss challenges that are perfectly cohesive. The villainous Tormentor is perhaps the best example of this. A screen-filling brute wielding a car-sized mace, the Tormentor is encased in a shadowy shield, making him invincible to all of Yui’s attacks. But observant players will notice darkened lamps scattered throughout the room. In lighting them, Tormentor’s shield disappears, and he becomes vulnerable to Everlight. This is YesterMorrow at its peak, and when it reaches those highs, it feels incredible to play.

A Break in the Timeline

YesterMorrow has its flaws, however. In a game where time is so integral to the plot, it doesn’t really impact how players move through the world. Most time-related puzzles simply refer to a wall that has or hasn’t crumbled in the future or the past, and visiting the appropriate timeline. Young Yui and slightly-older Yui don’t have meaningfully different moves or access to different skills. Young Yui is about a head shorter than her teenage self which is about as far as YesterMorrow goes in making them feel distinct.

There are some minor mechanical hiccups, too. The landscape, while gorgeous and evocative, can sometimes blend together. Doors and even inclines that can be traversed are occasionally difficult to find. There isn’t always a great sense of how locations connect to each other; instead of a Metroid-Esque interconnected world that gradually becomes more accessible as different skills are unlocked, YesterMorrow‘s locations feel more isolated from each other.

And while YesterMorrow does a great job of gradually giving Yui new skills and health over its playtime, by the end Yui will have enough hearts to bulldoze through some of the more intricate puzzles. Instead of jumping, dashing, and rolling through challenging Trials to find cool collectibles, players with more than, say, five hearts can just run over a floor of spikes and make use of the generous invincibility that’s granted after Yui takes damage to power through. It feels a little like an oversight that the player can crash through a difficult room using brute strength instead of their wits. There are many moments where the “sweaty palms” that accompany a tough platforming challenge give way to exasperation when the player realizes they didn’t have to perfect their skills after all.

As far as collectibles go, YesterMorrow doesn’t offer much in the way of tracking them. There are adorable animals throughout the world, patiently waiting to be pet. They require deft jumping and out-of-the-box thinking to reach, but there isn’t much if any way to keep track of how many animals are left in each region. The official website encourages players to find them all, but in-game doesn’t offer much assistance in how well players might be doing in that regard.

A Bright Future

But these are minor gripes. Most platformers have secret collectibles hidden away, and every game has quirks in the design that make some aspects easier to navigate than others. YesterMorrow is extremely solid, and when it gives players the freedom to explore the world and chat with NPCs, it shines. Indie platformers may be a dime a dozen, but YesterMorrow‘s gorgeous aesthetics set it apart from other games like it. And though the platforming challenges may be undercut by some design decisions, there are still several boss fights and trials that feel exhilarating to overcome.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.

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