Behind the Screen is bizarre. Set in 1970s Taiwan, it tells the story of a young man accused of the murder of his father and follows the events of his life leading up to this event.
Behind the Screen explores a number of mature themes, such as adultery and alcoholism, through simple storytelling and highly stylised visualisation.
Playing out across eight acts, much of the game is focused on basic puzzle solving or timed button pressing.
In some ways feels like a visual novel with gaming elements tacked on, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Behind the Screen Review
Behind the Screen begins with a television transmission; a reporter covering the news of the murder. This is used for narrative exposition between segments – a way for the developers to introduce the individual components of the accused’s life.
This then moves into a kindergarten segment, where players aid the protagonist in escaping the school. This includes basic puzzle solving, with players pushing and pulling sleeping schoolfriends to create a path through the environment. Later sections have the player escaping his demonic spider-like teacher as she pursues him down a corridor.
As he moves into high school, the player needs to track down details in order to fight for school captaincy – including actual “battles” with bullies along the way.
Still later, as a young adult, he gets into fights with other key story members, culminating in a stylised fight with his own father.
None of these levels is overly complex, nor overly long. In fact, I’d suggest the whole game can be completed in around 3 hours. The controls themselves can be frustrating at times – occasionally imprecise, and occasionally unfair as a result.
However, the levels themselves are simple and short enough for this not to be much of an issue. The game just doesn’t have you doing the same thing for long enough for it to become annoying.
It’s the themes and the artwork that brings this game to life, with a core focus on the difference between reality and perception. In his younger years, our protagonist lets his imagination run wild, envisioning highly fantastic environments in his kindergarten, and perceiving himself as a Roman warrior in High School.
It’s this internal confusion that plays out at the end of the story, bringing the story to its climax as the player realises that all may not have been as it seemed. Alongside this are themes of unfairness and inequality, with the televised news segments seemingly focused on more negative aspects of his life and painting the accused in a highly negative manner.
Paired with highly negative interviews with supplementary characters (some of which have their own agenda), the game sets players up to chase not only the final outcome but ideally a positive one for our hero.
I’m not going to spoil the end if you’re interested, but I will say that it is confusing. In fact, the biggest problem with the game itself is in its English translation.
Set in Taiwan, and developed by a small team out of Japan, it is very clear that the translation was done in-house and was not passed to professional translators.
While some simple spelling and grammatical errors are forgivable (particularly for a small independent developer), some of the translations are misleading, with some sections being somewhat unclear in their intention.
Given the game is laser-focused on its core themes, I do not expect this lack of clarity was intended. It would have benefitted from better translation.
All Your Base
Clearly, Behind the Screen was a labour of love for the team involved. The artwork is sublime, and the story itself has a solid structure that was very much intended to get players thinking.
While some of the errors in translation can be offputting – particularly when touching on sensitive themes – and the story itself does feel quite rushed overall, the ending will leave players at a loss for words.
This isn’t born out of confusion, but out of introspection.
It’s a strange game and difficult to recommend for its brevity, its frustration and its simplicity, but definitely, something players should look into if they like a quirky and involved story.
Overall, I’m glad to have had the experience, short though it was.
Behind the Screen was reviewed on Switch using a code provided by the developer.
Game Title: Behind the Screen