Tech reviews

Review: Hand In Hand – Movies Games and Tech

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Hand in Hand cut my brain in half, horizontally. Normally when a game touts itself as co-op focused, it doesn’t have much time for singleplayers. Likewise, singleplayer games usually have co-op as an unsatisfying side-dish. Looking at you, Mario Odyssey. Hand in Hand is a bit of a rarity in that respect. It clearly focuses on co-op players, having a split-screen and everything, but it accomodates lonely players too.

It does this by letting you control each character independently, hence the splitting of the brain. This almost completely changes things, handing the singleplayer a whole new set of puzzles. It’s a nice idea. Unfortunately, ideas only get credit in the execution. Hand in Hand is a gorgeous experience but its puzzles are a little unbalanced and, fatally, much too simple.

The Power of Love

Let’s focus on that gorgeous comment for a tick. Loading up Hand in Hand is like looking at a painting. Everything is in deep, muted colours and it just looks like a calm, if slightly creepy, place to be. Part is that is the nice, detailed backgrounds that are full of little details. There’s also good lighting work throughout. It’s underscored by a fairly reserved, but nice, soundtrack that makes Hand in Hand a very relaxing experience. Probably fitting that most of the giant, evil monsters are just dark shapes. They’re the antithesis of the entire world.

That brings me to the story, which is… a little vague. From various clips that play throughout, its clear that the world is undergoing a bit of an evil takeover. A meteor crashes down and darkness and death spread across the land. This happens while our two heroes, a stocky bloke and a blue-haired girl, are in a tower together. They’re clearly lovers, but once the evil hits they need to split up to deal with it. It’s not the best at communicating things, though. I thought the story was they’d broken up, for one, at least at the start.

It made sense to me. A significant part of the gameplay is how they solve puzzles by working together. I thought it was a metaphor for how they need each other. I just couldn’t fit the giant slug into the metaphor. Not in any comfortable way anyway. But let’s focus on those puzzles. As I said earlier, the game is played in split screen and each character has their own skill. The bloke can slash, breaking rocks, and the girl can turn invisible, avoiding hazards and revealing hidden objects.

Rock Boy And Invisible Girl

A lot of the puzzles are platformer in nature but they all share a common thread: affecting each other’s worlds. The guy pulling a lever lowers a platform for the girl, for instance, and her invisible power hides hazards in his world. The different abilities challenge reactions and creative thinking. Reactions are where the platforming comes in. Hazards are constant, so the girl needs to be on her toes to hide them, while the guy generally has the harder jumps. Creative thinking comes in when you need to manipulate the world in the right way, such as bending lasers into targets. It’s a good idea.

It comes into its own when both characters need to move at once. That requires teamwork in co-op, and chameleon eyes in singleplayer. The execution throughout is a little wobbly though. The mapping of the controls in singleplayer is awkward on controller, for one, with no option to rebind. Splitting the controller in half for each character is fine, I just don’t want jumping to be the shoulder buttons. If you solve that by going co-op, you’ll find that the player with the girl is infinitely more useful than the guy. Her power is the only one that affects both screens, so she does the most heavy lifting. He’s just along for the ride.

The end result is a puzzle game that feels much too simple. Most puzzles are simply obstacles, with a large chunk of them being solved by just going invisible. I would often get an achievement pop up for solving a puzzle that I didn’t even realise was a puzzle. Hand in Hand also has a habit of introducting promising ideas then immediately dropping them. At one point it brought in the concept of platforms that appear for the girl when the guy steps on them. I think it’s used precisely once, before being dropped. No new mechanics have enough time to really breathe and most are solved without any real thought.

Hand in Hand: Nice Ideas, Not So Nice Execution

Hand in Hand seems unsure whether it wants to lean on puzzle or platformer, as evidenced by the boss fights. These are also a kick to the co-op players, as it focuses in on one character only. They are entirely platforming focused and the designs are great, I will admit. They aren’t great to play though. The movement isn’t bad but not quite fast enough to justify dodging fireballs and doing precise jumps. The final boss fight in particular is frustrating, being little more than memorising a series of jumps, which stretch on for far too long.

There is a really good idea for an indepth, co-op puzzle game in here. I admire how Hand in Hand took up that idea and even made it accessible to singleplayers, in a way that changed things up. Unfortunately, it was pulled between platformer and puzzle and the end result is a good example of neither. Its good looks and charm keep it afloat but its failure to dig deeper with the puzzle element ultimately hold it back.

(Hand in Hand’s Steam Page)


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