DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Athanasios 29.03.2020

Review for DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch

Horror as a genre is usually about surviving some sort of scary adversary; a murderer, a monster, an alien, an apparition - but what about something more intimate? What about being hunted by your guilt? Those who think that this can't work, can look no further than the psychological thriller, 2D adventure DISTRAINT on the Nintendo Switch, the almost Kafkaesque journey down the road that greed leads to, with the main protagonist being tortured by his very own choices.

Sometime during this adventure, a zombie elephant will chase you down a dark corridor. DISTRAINT isn't about running away from angry, undead mammals, though. The biggest enemy of the "hero" of this tale is his own darn self. Price, as he is called, is tasked by his three, ultra-greedy bosses to throw some people out of their homes. Price isn't a mobster, however. He is just doing his job… or that's what he is saying to himself to endure the ordeal. He doesn't like what he has to do, but he'll do it, and just like many do in real life, he'll try to convince himself that there's no other way. In other words, this fool will sell his soul, just to get his paycheck.

Screenshot for DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch

Each dark deed will be reflected on his humble apartment by the mere appearance of a more expensive coffee maker, which symbolises his slow path to increased, economic comfort. Each of these steps will also bring him closer to madness. Whether a manifestation of his troubled psyche, or actual metaphysical events, dark, nightmarish visions will soon become the norm here - and don't let the cartoonish look of the characters fool you. In fact, their comical design works in unison with the purgatory feel of it all, to create quite the surreal experience. You are basically moving around bloaty headed dolls in dirty, dimly lit, decrepit locales - creepy.

You'll be walking down a corridor in a retirement home. The abandoned old farts that live there are almost in a catatonic state, and the place doesn't exactly look very pleasant either. This is still something real and tangible - mundane and depressing, but real. Then you'll realise that the label in the reception desk reads 'deception,' the nurse's eyes appear as if stitched shut, and in a pitch black dark room a man disposes dead oldsters by destroying them like a bunch of documents. While at times awkwardly handled, the weird aspect of DISTRAINT can be surpassingly upsetting.

Screenshot for DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch

As someone tired by many titles that mostly use jump scares, like FNAF copycats (and FNAF itself, to be honest), or an abundance of gore to make one's heart beat a little faster, this critic was surprised by the slow burn that this horror game provided, which, for some reason, reminded him of the cult gem known as Eraserhead. There's an ever present feeling of dread here, rather than things that try to kill or startle you, and that's one of its biggest strengths, with the simple pixel art style, and unvaried colour palette, plus the way most of the screen is completely black, managing to really dug deep into your subconscious, and make you feel… threatened.

Another thing this is really good at is how it remains unapologetically pessimistic throughout.
There's no way to alter Price's story. This is a hopeless journey towards hell. The occasional ray of hope that will appear wherever he attempts to fix his wrongdoing makes the unavoidable doom that will ensue even "better." The lesson given here, is that greed can lead to, well, not actually being able to learn that lesson. This hopeless shell of a man tries to convince himself that it is "just one more day at work and that's it," but no, once you throw away your humanity, there's simply no turning back. DISTRAINT doesn't sugar-coat the whole thing. Too bad the game is boring…

Screenshot for DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch

Interactive short story? Plot-driven adventure? Call it whatever you want, a game is still a game, thus gameplay matters - no excuses accepted. This is sadly the least interesting part on offer, something that lots of indies that have a heavy emphasis in storytelling seem to struggle with. For starters, moving on with the plot requires solving a bunch of puzzles, and while their simplicity helps in keeping the pace steady, they are a bit too simple for their own sake, and, most importantly, feel like busywork; like chores. You go through the motions, and do things just to do them, something that will make this two-hour dark odyssey feel like it lasts longer than it should.

The tedious nature of it all is even more evident in the level design. You need to, say, find a key to a door. That means that you have to search around a bunch of samey corridors, opening door after door, many times going in circles because the world doesn't communicate its structure that well. In the end, it's hard to care, and thus remember where you are. Things can get a bit trickier near the end, with some segments actually requiring some trial-and-error, but it's still more boring than challenging or exciting. The strong atmosphere is still good enough to keep you engrossed, sure, but it would be nice if the gameplay followed suit.

Screenshot for DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

DISTRAINT certainly seems to understand that the things that go bump in the night are less scary than the deep-rooted horrors that you can inflict on yourselves. This surreal-meets-the-mundane short story about a man's descent to metaphorical - and maybe literal - hell will keep you invested in the two and a half hours that the journey will last. Just don't expect any decent gameplay.

Developer

Jesse Makkonen

Publisher

Ratalaika Games

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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