Glimmer in Mirror is a thoroughly lovely-looking game. It’s the kind of game that makes me think about all the technological advancements in gaming, and how they can be used not only to create boring old photorealism, but also to create some of the most astonishingly beautiful interactive animations you’ve ever seen.
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was fascinated with the idea that one day video games might look as good as traditional animation. My interest in this idea was helped along by the existence of the Don Bluth “interactive cartoon” games such as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but I was painfully conscious of the fact that those games had no real “gameplay” in the traditional sense; I couldn’t freely control Dirk the Daring or Dexter — all I was doing was playing a test of memory and reactions in order to watch a movie.
As time has gone on, we’ve gotten closer and closer to that dream of interactive experiences that truly look like traditional animation. Anime-style games do a great job of making use of cel-shading and motion capture to produce a convincing effect, but the best work is still happening in the 2D or quasi-2D space with titles like WayForward’s Shantae series and the incredible work Arc System Works does on their fighting games.
The “big names” out there aren’t the only ones producing gorgeous-looking animation, though; a lot of indie studios have really nailed the way in which today’s hardware can produce some absolutely stunning results. And Glimmer in Mirror, an upcoming exploration-based platform game with run-and-gun elements and a heavy narrative component, is a great example of this.
In Glimmer in Mirror, you take on the role of Shiro, a young girl who awakens in a world of emptiness, only to see a strange and mysterious mirror before her, with a beautiful world seemingly on the other side of it. The mirror shatters before her eyes and Shiro is plunged into darkness, but moments later she awakens again in a beautiful, fragrant forest; seemingly the world inside the mirror that she was looking longingly at just moments ago.
From here, Shiro begins an adventure to figure out what on Earth is happening, and perhaps to help a few people and animals out in the process. Over the course of the short demo version available as part of the June 2021 Steam Next Fest, we guide Shiro in an attempt to get her bearings, start to get a feel for what is happening in this peculiar other world, and finally make a start on solving some local problems.
The basic gameplay in Glimmer in Mirror unfolds as a slickly produced, tightly responsive side-scrolling platform game. Shiro can run and jump, and after the initial story events are resolved, she can rapidly fire shots or charge up a powerful blast to destroy obstacles. As you progress, you’ll uncover spirits of animals who provide both passive and active abilities; the more you use a particular companion, the more their friendship level will increase — and the more they like Shiro, the more effective their abilities will be.
The demo version of Glimmer in Mirror provides a fairly linear path to travel, but the full version promises to feature a lot more in the way of exploration. Even in this early demo, though, exploration is rewarded with a few additional things to stumble across — most notably the large, cracked eggs that suggest all is perhaps not well in this part of the forest.
Sure enough, towards the end of the demo you’re thrown into a boss fight against the apparent producer of said eggs — a large and very angry feathered beast that appears to be desperately defending her last remaining potential offspring. This boss fight is very well-produced, featuring a strong emphasis on pattern recognition with clear audio-visual cues, some excellent animation and a dramatic soundtrack.
But the emphasis is not on violence; Shiro’s job is to placate the beast rather than kill it, and the last story teaser in the demo suggests that for at least part of her adventure in the mirror world, Shiro will be helping out a community of fairies as they attempt to restore some sort of balance to the forest. Shiro’s “Glimmer” power will seemingly be of critical importance in this process — but to exactly what end remains to be seen at the time of writing.
There’s not a lot to the current demo of Glimmer in Mirror in terms of “content”, but this relatively brief demo is already enough to suggest that the final product has the potential to be very special indeed. The excellent animation on Shiro’s main sprite; the responsive controls; the solid mechanics; the interesting level design — if developer MapleDorm Games can keep up the momentum during development, then this could be a very lovely game indeed when it’s finally finished.
It’s particularly interesting to see an open-structure side-scroller like this adopt satisfyingly rapid-fire run-and-gun-style combat rather than the more commonly seen action-RPG style melee action. It’s not unheard of for there to be an emphasis on ranged combat in this sort of title, of course, but it is relatively rare for it to be used outside of a sci-fi or military-inspired setting. Glimmer in Mirror’s responsive and snappy platform shooter-style combat combined with its beautifully ethereal setting makes it immediately distinctive — and something I want to see a lot more of.
The plan for Glimmer in Mirror is to launch as an Early Access title in the near future, and to continue development in collaboration with community feedback for about a year after that initial release. The Early Access version is planned to include four major areas to explore, a variety of different stories to investigate, plenty of puzzles to solve and lots of the collectible spirits to fiddle around with.
Beyond that, MapleDorm Games plans for the full game to feature a larger world map with a longer, deeper, richer story along with plenty more abilities and collectible items. They haven’t given a specific idea of exactly how much larger the final version is intended to be as yet, but doubtless that will become clearer once the game actually releases that Early Access version and starts receiving a bit more in the way of organised feedback from its players.
For now, though, this early demo of Glimmer in Mirror is especially impressive considering that MapleDorm is such a small team — one full-time developer and two part-time artists — and that this is the first full game they have developed together. It’s definitely one to watch — and if you’re quick enough at the time of writing, you might even be able to nab that demo to try for yourself before the June 2021 Next Fest wraps up on Steam!
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