With my previous review – Puzzle Therapy

Everyone can sympathize with waking up late at night and sitting up in agony as your brain relives a traumatic, embarrassing or heartbreaking moment for you. Our past is with us forever and how it manifests in the present is a day-to-day toss-up. With My Past, the debut game from developer Imagine Wings Studio, it tries to combine those emotions with platform-puzzle gameplay and does it very well. The result was a therapeutic five-hour adventure that I’m still thinking about after a long time today.

After waking up to her past at 3am, a nameless blue-haired girl journeys through her labyrinthine mind, which holds her back. This translates into six different chapters of the game, each with a unique theme in narrative and mechanics. The first one introduces you to her “past”, which shines with my past. Your past is only you, but two seconds before. If you walk forward and jump, two seconds later, it will too. My Past builds up to this playfully in its opening moments while teaching you the ropes, but by the end of the game, I was pulling moves that bent my brain in all directions.

As you progress through each chapter, With My Past introduces new mechanics that allow you to teleport to a place in your past, like a kiwi fruit, or climb over it to solidify your past and reach new heights. It’s hard to explain how unique this mechanic is in With My Past because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played in a puzzle game, but Imagine Wings Studios excels at adding new layers to its depth at every stage of the journey. I remember 2018’s Celeste incorporating narrative elements into the game mechanics.

On that same note, With My Past is more ambiguous than Celeste’s journey of transformation and self-love, instead allowing players to graft their past onto the protagonist here. But it works well. The on-screen words that tell the story dive into self-loathing, our past bubbles up at bad times, and even though loneliness is sometimes surrounded by love, I found myself thinking about my past and it was surprising. Watch how With My Past addresses those issues through gameplay.

As the past in your game transforms from a mysterious ghost, to a hunting enemy, to an ally, you must consider and understand it as part of what you create. It does so while offering great puzzle after puzzle with With My Past. A handful of the 150+ challenges left me more frustrated than satisfied, but the skip option allows players to continue the story. My real dissatisfaction occurred in the game’s final (and only) “boss” fight. Maybe I’m missing the point, but in an otherwise well-rounded experience, I felt it didn’t stick with everything I played.

With zero voice acting, a minimal soundscape coloring the protagonist’s footsteps, With My Past’s score does the talking here, and the result is one of my favorite scores of the year. It’s grand, expansive, and feels more at home in a movie theater than coming from my desktop screen, but the game’s music is as integral to this journey as the story and its puzzles.

I started my past on a whim yesterday and finished it late afternoon with a pained smile on my face; That “hurts too much” kind of laugh. With My Past is a short but powerful burst of emotional storytelling on top of excellent and intuitive puzzle design. With a few misses, it’s an impressive reminder of the power of games and how clever developers can integrate storytelling into how we play.

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