A Fold Apart Review: Scoring Heart and Soul
There is perhaps no game that better captures the intricacies of being in a relationship than A Fold Apart. Focusing on the emotional pitfalls of distance and how communication colors our understanding of one another, it ultimately speaks to the higher sphere of connection between two people.
Heartfelt and touching, A Fold Apart is a manifesto to the strength of love.
It's difficult to put into words how I feel about A Fold Apart. The degree to which it so accurately captures the complexities of love is borderline baffling. To say it is merely a puzzle game is to misrepresent the elaborate rhythms pulsing beneath its wonderfully-realized veneer.
A Fold Apart Review: Scoring Heart and Soul
Before you understand how A Fold Apart works, it's important to understand it is a game about long-distance relationships. Separated by an interminable distance, a couple wades through the ebb and flow of day-to-day communication, and the story plays out across two distinct worlds: the real world and the emotional world.
In the real world, the couple communicates primarily through text messages. Though many of the messages are routine or even mundane, they accurately convey the reality of an average relationship. While that could be construed as a knock on A Fold Apart, it's precisely the opposite.
It is a reason the game excels.
There are moments in A Fold Apart that could have been taken right out of my conversations with my wife, as if text messages were pulled straight from my phone. And there are other moments further along that I know will resonate with players in a similar way. It's these tiny anchor points that resonate so deeply throughout the narrative.
The other portion of A Fold Apart takes place in the emotional world. As the couple shares stories and hopes for their life together, miscommunication inevitably sneaks in, becoming the germ for fear, doubt, and guilt. When these emotions derail a conversation, whichever of the characters you're controlling tumbles into the emotional world.
That is where you complete the game's puzzles, the physical manifestations of emotion.
While the real world is often vibrantly cheery, bright, and full of life, the emotional world is often represented as a twisted Tim-Burton-caricature of a Pixar film. Buildings cant and crack, and thunderheads loom ominously in the distance. Hues are distinctly depressive, and the music is often melancholic.
As for the puzzles themselves, things begin easy enough, with the tutorial teaching you how to fold each postcard-sized frame horizontally, from both right and left. You then learn how to flip the frame and fold again to create new pathways toward your goal. You then learn how to unfold to create even more pathways, by which you fold, unfold, and flip once again.
These core principles follow you through many of the game's early chapters and stages. Eventually, things become more complex, and you find yourself folding corners, folding vertically, using blocks, and turning puzzles completely upside down, throwing your character from one side of a puzzle to another.
Thankfully, puzzles evolve with the narrative's growing complexity, requiring you employ all of the skills you've learned along the way. Yet, they're never insurmountable.
If you really get stuck, the game has a nifty hint feature that you can use at your leisure. Get stuck, and you can pause the game to get a hint. If you need, the hint system can even solve the entire puzzle for you, slowly metering out pointers at the click of a button or the press of a key.
I reviewed A Fold Apart on PC, so I can't speak to how it feels on mobile devices or the Nintendo Switch. I can say, however, that the game controls delightfully. Both mouse and keyboard and controller are supported on Steam, with each providing an entirely different yet agreeable feel.
On controller, you use the left thumbstick to move your character across a 2D plane and the right thumbstick to fold the paper. "A" locks in the fold and "B" unfolds. The bumpers flip the postcard from one side to the other, while "Y" rotates the card.
Movements and actions on a controller are incredibly fluid and intuitive. However, on mouse and keyboard, solving puzzles feels perfectly tactile. Specifically, it's the action of moving your mouse to an edge, clicking to grab it, pulling the mouse to fold it, and releasing the mouse button to confirm the fold. It's a small subtly but one worth exploring in a game all about feel.
I used a controller across my first playthrough, but my entire outlook changed by using a mouse and keyboard on my second. In no small way did it feel like I was legitimately folding paper.
A Fold Apart Review — The Bottom Line
- Fantastically unique puzzles
- Realistic, emotive writing
- Moving soundtrack
- Four couples to play as
- Some hard-to-read 3D text
- Puzzles often explore the same emotions
- Some puzzles are very (very) short
There's so much more I could say about A Fold Apart, from its moving soundtrack to its wonderful and fitting artwork. I've said some of those things in my preview of the game, which is certainly worth a read if you want to know more.
A Fold Apart is an indie gem. To be frank, I've rarely been captured by a game like this; historically, I fall off the wagon at some point near the beginning. But A Fold Apart charmingly weaves so tightly into your conscious that it's impossible to forget.
Some of its puzzles are on the wrong side of short and rely too heavily on negative emotions, while some of the font takes more effort to read than it should. The text message boxes also stand out as somehow anachronistically simplistic, but perhaps that's a tick in my design brain being picky.
However, the game is so incredibly charming and so accurately depicts the rigors and pleasures of being in love that I can't help but adore it. The first title from Lightning Rod Games isn't perfect by definition, but even with a few tiny blemishes, it's only a fold apart.
[Note: A copy of A Fold Apart was provided by Lightning Rod Games for the purpose of this review.]