When I first heard about Ugly I thought to myself, “Man, what a weird name for a game”, but after playing it and experiencing what the game has to offer, I still think it’s a weird name. However, now I have a much deeper appreciation for the game, its themes, and how those are integrated into the gameplay. In this review, I’ll be taking a look at everything that Ugly has to offer with its dark world.
The Story of Ugly
In all honesty, Ugly is a story about every single one of us, with some supernatural parts scattered here and there. The game explores topics of child abuse and generational trauma, which I’m certain every single one of us has experienced in one form or another. This can definitely be a touchy subject for some, especially if you’re going through those issues currently.
In the game, you play as the ugly man (ex. ugly boy) who suffered mistreatment at the hands of his father. This mistreatment caused the protagonist to develop severe alcoholism, as well as accumulate a ton of unprocessed baggage over the years. Your goal throughout the story is to find out what happened exactly and to process all those negative thoughts away.
The Gameplay of Ugly
It’s ironic, but Ugly’s gameplay couldn’t be simpler and more complex at the same time. In essence, the game is a story-driven platformer. The game does however have one mechanic that is fairly unique and takes some getting used to. The mechanic in question is the crystal shard which allows you to jump between the two versions of yourself.
The reason this mechanic takes some getting used to is that everything you do is mirrored in the other character. See, the problem comes from the fact that our brains aren’t designed to look at the world in a mirrored state. Just look at how our closest relatives, the monkeys, react when looking in the mirror and everything will be made clear (I swear that’s not a mirror pun).
This becomes even more challenging when you have to plan your actions for the near future. Not only do you have to take into consideration what your character will do, but what your mirror image will do as well. This is where most of the challenge in the game comes from actually.
It’s a Challenging Game, Both Mentally and Emotionally
Even though Ugly uses a grand total of 7 buttons, it’s still quite a challenging game. I was honestly taken aback the first time I got into the game and saw a screen that told me that, to fully enjoy the game, I should take constant breaks when playing it. At the time I found it weird that a game would tell me this, but looking back at it I see why.
Ugly really drains you fast, both mentally and emotionally. Each challenge is designed to activate your noggin, usually in a different way than before. Although there are many similar elements, no two puzzles are the same. This means that you’ll have to constantly strain your brain muscles if you want to pass the challenges.
Be Prepared to be Unsettled
Once you do pass the challenges, you’ll usually encounter either a memory, a movie, or a key. Memories and movies are how you recollect your character’s past and how the story is revealed to you. And keys are, well; they’re keys. They’re used to open doors. That part is pretty self-explanatory.
The memories and movies themselves can be quite morbid and unsettling at times. One thing that I really liked about them is that they’re not arranged in a linear or chronological fashion, rather, they’re scattered around the world. I found this confusing at first, but after thinking about it deeper I actually developed an appreciation for this system.
Yes, it’s confusing and convoluted. However, that’s exactly the point! Processing mental baggage is a confusing, convoluted, and long process. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be a need for psychiatrists. This is how Ugly ultimately forces us to face our own inner demons, which in a way I think is absolutely beautiful, albeit unsettling.
The Things Ugly Gets Right
As with any game, there are certain things that Ugly gets right that are absolutely stunning, and certain things that it does wrong that leave much to be desired. The one thing that it absolutely does right is its art style. The hand-drawn assets are just absolutely stunning to look at. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring every scene and appreciating all the little details.
Another thing that’s really enjoyable about the game is its myriad of puzzles and challenges. As I mentioned previously, each and every single one of them is challenging yet rewarding at the same time. At times they were a bit “too challenging,” but I’ll just write that off as a skill issue on my part.
The Things Ugly Gets Wrong
The pros of the game really add to the experience. However, it’s cons remove just as much. Probably the biggest shortcoming of the game is its musical arrangement. The sound design itself is great, however, its arrangement is done in such a weird way that most of the time I felt uninspired and bored by the game’s soundtrack. As the “good parts” were few and far between.
Another critique I have is that the game does a poor job of guiding you. I understand that the game wants me to be confused, but there’s a right way to go about that and a wrong way. Regrettably, the game goes about it in the wrong way. Some of the sections in the game are so unintuitive that I had to spend a good portion of time just staring at the screen and cursing the level design.
Summary and Closing Remarks
All in all, Ugly is quite the entertaining story-driven platformer. It gets the fundamentals down just right, only falling short in the finishing touches. It’s a memorable experience that offers just the right amount of challenges to keep you captivated and entertained throughout.
Its hand-drawn art style is truly a sight to behold, as each area feels like a work of art in and of itself. Regrettably, the only noticeable downsides of the game are its repetitive music and the occasional unintuitive level design. Other than that, it’s quite an enjoyable experience.
What did you think of our UGLY Review? Share what you think about it in the comments below.
This review is based on the PC version of UGLY. The key was provided by Team Ugly.