Successfully tackling a concept as heavy as death is something many games struggle to do and most simply choose not to. While there is no shortage of games which trade in death through mechanics, rarely do any of them attempt to find something substantial to say about the topic.
She Remembered Caterpillars though, does try to say something.
At its core, the game is a fantastically simple puzzle experience that leverages hand-drawn art to its advantage. Where the game tackles its deeper subject matter lies between the puzzles however and it’s this minimalist approach which lends the game
She Remembered Caterpillars Review
She Remembered Caterpillars began its life as a simple test project but would eventually find its true identity when game designers David Priemer and Daniel Leander Goffin teamed up with writer Cassandra Khaw.
The game was always planned to delve into deeper narrative waters under Khaw’s pen. Real world tragedy struck during development however and the initial plan for a retelling of the mythological tale of Isis and Osiris was left behind in service of something much more tangible.
Just a few months after joining the development team, Khaw’s father passed away and this grief led to a transformation of the game’s narrative. Now, in place of the Egyptian myth is a fractured tale of loss which is told through short bursts of text between puzzles. These excerpts are usually evocative and expertly written, though the decision to present them in such a minimalist fashion can work against them.
They spin a haunting tale but without being tethered to the game proper the narrative becomes a disparate element rather than integral to the experience.
Which is a tangible disappointment; the intention behind the narrative beats is raw and beautiful but is let down by its execution. There are hints of metaphors and deliberately selected imagery littered throughout the puzzle levels but again, much like the narrative, they exist as hints to a greater bigger picture.
It doesn’t detract from the overall experience but it doesn’t feel as though it adds anything to it either. While Khaw’s words are flawless if clumsily implemented, the game’s core puzzles more than makeup for any narrative missteps.
The puzzle designs of She Remembered Caterpillars are exemplary of a simple concept executed in a deliciously complex way. Without delving too deep into the particulars, the game asks you to solve a series of small, escalating colour based puzzles.
In each ‘level,’ you’ll be required to move a varying number of Gammies from point A to B using caterpillar bridges which can only be used by certain Gammies of certain colours.
The Gammies themselves are adorable and immediately likeable. They are small shapes who come in a variety of primary colours and all share the same tiny, expressive faces and lithe legs. The colour, and eventually shape, of a Gammie, will be what dictates where it can move throughout the level as only certain bridges and gates will be accessible to certain Gammies.
For example, a Blue Gammie can pass over a blue bridge but not through a blue gate, whereas a Red Gammie can pass over a red bridge and a blue gate but not a red gate. This system expands as more colours are added and eventually will take the Gammies’ body shape into account, such as a specific Triangle Gammie and so forth.
The player’s ultimate goal is to get all Gammies in a level to a white flowery launchpad of sorts. On top of the baseline colour coding, this goal becomes more complicated when the game asks you to combine two Gammies to create new colours. Later levels add even more complexities to the core puzzle mechanic in ways that feel like an organic extension.
Eventually, you’ll be twisting your mind around a string of colourful, shaped mazes that perfectly blend challenging design and pacing.
The difficulty ramps up with the addition of each new layer of mechanics but never overwhelms. I’ll admit that way earlier than I would have liked I found myself cocking my head to the side in amused frustration.
Puzzle game savants will likely find these earlier sections far easier though, for the rest of us, the addition of a fully fleshed out rewind mechanic may have been helpful. The game does allow for a lightning-quick reset of a level from the pause menu but this is a complete reset as opposed to a simple move backward.
The hand-drawn art and overall commitment to aesthetic also elevate She Remembered Caterpillars above its contemporaries. Its very specific art style has been described by the developers as ‘Fungipunk’, a strangely appealing blend of naturalistic elements and machinery.
The game introduces this aesthetic slowly but as the puzzles grow in complexity so too does the art around them.
She Remembered Caterpillars also tweaks its framerate somewhat to better emulate a classic style of animation. By pairing the hand-drawn art with a primarily 12fps rate, She Remembered Caterpillars feels as though it was pulled straight from a different time with its minor jitters and imperfections.
The developers have stated that this was a deliberate choice to enhance the experience and while some players will miss the smooth feeling of a higher framerate, this is an adjustment well worth making.
The brightly coloured, playful Gammies do, however, clash somewhat with the game’s overarching commitment to its Fungipunk aesthetic. It is not visually unpleasant pairing but often the subdued hue of the backdrops and levels paired with the Gammies and caterpillar bridges creates an odd tonality issue.
This issue arises again when considering the game’s score which is brilliant though perhaps slightly mismatched to the game. Thomas Hoehl’s sombre music occasionally inserts moments of whimsy into the tone but ultimately vibes much closer to the narrative’s heavier elements than the Gammies’ joyous nature.
Getting Over It
The contrasting components of She Remembered Caterpillars create an undeniable discord but while it threatens to tip the whole experience it never quite does.
Individually the aesthetic elements are each in their own right close to perfection, much in the same way the writing of the narrative is. While the final mix of each of these things may not be as cohesive as it could have been the end result is far from unenjoyable.
The uneasy harmony is founded in the game’s impeccable puzzle design but the charm of Fungipunk seals the deal.
She Remembered Caterpillars is fun to play but even more enjoyable to bang your head against and although its presentation can feel clumsy at times the feeling the game leaves you with is undeniably beautiful.
She Remembered Caterpillars was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a digital code provided by Ysbryd Games.
She Remembered Caterpillars Review
Impeccable Puzzle Design - 9/10
Unique 'Fungipunk' aesthetic - 8/10
Well written narrative - 8/10
Haunting soundtrack - 7/10
Clashing tones - 5/10
Poorly implemented narrative - 5/10