Pretentious Game is an indie platformer that attempts to comment on and live in that experimental world of games like Thomas Was Alone, Super Meat Boy, and Dear Esther. Each of the four levels features a different story about life, love, family, and regret. You control a box trying to reach another box or the end of a stage by any means necessary.
The first story is the original online game and it is the best. You are a blue square trying to reach the pink square, the love of your life. The text explaining your emotional state gives you the hints you need to beat the level. For example, in the level labeled “I will run fearless,” your only option for survival is running straight over the gaps in the level. If you jump, you hit the fire and start over.
As the game progresses through its four stories (so far, more are coming), the platforming mechanics become much more challenging. You have to break the rules of platform games to advance, such as moving obstacles that stand in your way with your mouse or intentionally harming your character to get through a barrier. The gameplay variety is definitely a plus.
Pretentious Game suffers from an overwhelming sameness as you venture into the later stories. It’s hard to tell if developer Keybol is aiming for an absurd commentary on the heart-wrenching twists in games like Bastion or sincerely attempting to rip your heart out. Either way, it all becomes too familiar by the end. The third story is so emotionally manipulative just for the sake of making you sad that it becomes ridiculous. By the time you’re playing as latchkey children throwing each other over platforms, it’s a struggle to get to the end of a story.
That’s the problem with calling your game Pretentious Game. If you’re aiming for irony and it plays too straight, it doesn’t work. If you’re aiming for meta-commentary on the increasingly cerebral nature of indie platformer games, you’re probably going to turn off the core demographic for those stories. And, if the stories are too depressing and treated far too earnestly, they turn into unintended parody, like a blockbuster film descending to B-movie territory by accident.
Pretentious Game has solid gameplay, but the stories and concept are a huge let down. The game is not nearly as clever as it wants to be and actually betrays some cool puzzles with cringe-worthy melodrama.