Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Developer: Atrax Games
Publisher: Mastertronic
Steam: Sym

Sym suffers from the "been there done that" mentality. In the crowded field that is the puzzle/platformers genre, it is ridiculously hard to make your game stand out, be fun, and unique. Sym attempts this with its moody tones/art and some upside down platforming. In the description of the game, you play Josh, a teenage boy with social anxiety disorder. The entire game is supposed to be some sort of metaphor for the mindset and thoughts this kid is having. Only problem is that I was more distracted by silly controls and bad hit detection, then I was by the text that floats in the background.

I am getting ahead of myself though. Sym gives you the ability to switch sides of the level. Everything is divided by black & white. You will need to use your ability to flip the level to get past certain puzzle challenges or obstacles. Obstacles can range from man eating plants, spinning blades, and giant monsters that eat you. The goal is to get to the door that is somewhere in the level and move along. For the most part the level design is done fairly well, however there doesn't seem to be a consistent difficulty as you make your way through the 44 levels. One level is incredibly hard and then the next incredibly easy. The levels do usually follow a theme though, pertaining to a new obstacle. Where things begin to fall apart is the controls. It currently has zero controller support and very poor collision detection.

Let's start with the spinning blades, they can kill you whenever they want. I have died standing in a block next to one and then lived while standing on top of one. Then there are the man eating plants. These are an instant death, no chance is given to move away from the block that it spawns from. The monsters are more or less easy to avoid for the most part. The platforming, which is the key component to the game is messy. You clip when you jump through a block that is 3 blocks high, it doesn't appear like you should be able to jump this high but you can. I never felt that the controls were very responsive and most of the time I felt I was just lucky, instead of being able rely on my skills. Luckily, death isn't too punishing in the game, with an instant reload that takes you back to the beginning of the level every time. Starting at the beginning isn't new to harder platformers in the genre.

The theme of Sym is something that is eye catching, an unusual blend of strange art and doodles. Now I cannot comment to social anxiety disorder, what I can comment on is how I perceived the game. The game tries to deliver a message or vibe through narrative as you make your way through the level. Floating words that describe a particular thought or emotion. This works in theory for about the first 3 levels. Then I stopped reading it because I had to focus so intently on making jumps because of the poor hitbox detection. You simply begin to ignore it and look for the door out of the level so you can end it and not have to start over. I honestly wish I could tell you what the story was about but I simply just didn't have the chance to notice it. I felt this could've been avoided with more cut scenes inbetween levels. For a game that was aiming to be more like art, it seemingly focused on the level design more than anything else. Words in a background, do not a story make. To be fair, I don't have social anxiety disorder. There is a chance that I simply have a disconnect with the subject matter.

Returning to the visuals, the art of Sym is striking, you will either love it or hate it depending on personal preference. I found myself enjoying it though, with the art style feeling reminiscent of something found in Limbo. The music in Sym is done quite well, hitting a perfect balanace between moody and downright eerie. The tracks changing as you flip through the worlds really drives in the fact that these are two different worlds.

Options wise, Sym finds itself lacking. There are no resolution or graphics controls whatsoever, nor even sound/music sliders. You can toggle the sound off/on and put the game in windowed mode. That's about it. Where Sym did manage to impress was its level editor and shared community levels. Creating a level and sharing it with others is extremely easy and having personally played some of the user made levels, was a very enjoyable experience. Unfortunately the amount of user made levels isn't impressive and I quickly found myself wanting more.

Like I mentioned earlier what it comes down to is "been there done that" mentality. I have played Puzzle/Platformers and while Sym does strive to be different, it felt like it needed more. If you're aiming to be strange, go all in. If you want to be a difficult game, go all in. If you want to speak about a mental disorder. go all in. I want to know the insides and outs of this disorder. Make me understand what it is like to have social anxiety. Sym didn't accomplish this for me. As to the other aspects, it was fun but it isn't the greatest platforming experience. Especially when its in such a saturated genre.

The game does have quite a bit of levels and like I mentioned, with user made levels has the potential for more, if people suddenly start making more levels. So there is some replay, but that could be limited. Perhaps if you enjoy making levels and challenging yourself this is something that may appeal to you.
At the end of the day, I wanted to like Sym, I wanted to hear its message and understand what was going on, but I felt like silly hitboxes and some designs held it back from doing this. I wanted to take the plunge.

Now comes the hard question. Do I recommend the game?
Sym has affected some people in many personal ways, given them a form of cartharsis that some games never will. However I didn't feel that way. I only looked at this from the angle of a game. In truth, Sym speaks to people in different ways. I can't be the judge of how this game will affect you. You may love it and understand all of its themes and overlook its shortcomings. Plus its pretty damn affordable too at $7.99. On the other hand you may find yourself asking what it is you bought, with so many other games in the genre. It doesn't innovate all that much and doesn't really redefine the wheel but Sym never aimed to do that. What it does aim to do is present an image. One that isn't clear to me but may be to others. So decide for yourself, experience what you can of the game and then make a educated decision. Try the demo.

  • Level Editor/Community Levels
  • Steam Cards/Achievements
  • Fantastic music
  • Great level designs
  • Bad Hit detection
  • Theme/Story is lost due to gameplay
  •  No controller support
  • Not innovative in a crowded genre

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