Your time to Schein
Platforming games are arguably the most common genre that springs to mind when people think of video games. Even the uninitiated are relatively familiar with old stalwarts like Sonic, Mega Man, Metroid and, of course, Super Mario Brothers. They have been around since the very early days of gaming, and as a consequence they have amassed a quite large amount of conventions for games designers to draw upon. There is also a disadvantage that comes with this weight of expectation though, and that’s the tendency to settle into familiar patterns, failing to distinguish your game from what has come before. The developers involved obviously hope that this will not be the case with their game Schein.
The basic premise is that you are a man wandering through a swamp that is full of hazards and natural obstacles. The world you inhabit is a muted pastiche of greys and blacks, with most of the scenery being represented by minimalist silhouettes and sparing brush strokes. When I first fired the developer demo up, it immediately reminded me of Limbo. There’s even a melancholic undertone in the soundtrack that’s very reminiscent of the 2010 indie hit. The similarities end here though, as there is a rather unique gameplay mechanic pertaining to the way Schein’s platforming works.
Your character actually has the ability to switch between three different planes of existence, with the grey tones representing the purgatory of the swamp, a bright and sunny halo representing life, and a red halo symbolising death. In order to complete the games numerous platforming puzzles, gamers will have to actively switch between these different planes. Sometimes a floating bridge will only exist in the “life” plane, and sometimes a valuable object will exist in the “death” plane. It is essential that you can change between them whilst moving – sometimes in mid-air – otherwise you won’t be able to progress. This element of the game adds quite a lot to the brief gameplay demo that I played, and it certainly gives a sense of momentum to the proceedings.
I didn’t actually glean any hint of story from the developer demo, but according to the game’s website there is a plot planned to frame the gameplay. The man you play is actually a grieving father who has lost his son and finds himself mysteriously relocated to the swamplands. Without any motivation other than finding a way out, he presses forward and encounters difficult obstacles and “dreadful creatures”. The light that allows you to change between the different planes of existence is actually a ghost named “Irrlicht”. It’s not clear how much of a part the story will play in the overall game experience, and I didn’t actually encounter any creatures during my playthrough, but there’s enough here for a promising start.
The overall impression I received from Schein was definitely a positive one. There really isn’t much to look at so far. The backgrounds seem quite empty and there are long flat platforming sections with little puzzle variation at times, but I really like the overall feel of the game. The art direction is suitably gothic, the subtle music score serves to create a dark mood and the ability to switch between different worlds on the fly is certainly unique. Hopefully those behind Schein can flesh out what they’ve already got here by expanding their puzzle designs and integrating an interesting story element.
Anyone who is interested in playing Schein and getting to know more about the game should visit the game’s website and download the developer demo. They are actually looking for crowd funding to get their game off the ground, but seeing as they’ve not yet decided upon a platform on which to launch their campaign, you’ll have to just keep a keen eye on their developer blog and look to lend a helping hand when possible.