Incredible Mandy, Incredibly Confusing | Review

Incredible Mandy is a puzzle platformer indie game developed by Dotoyou. Your mission is to save your sister, and in order to do so you must traverse through multiple worlds fighting bosses along the way. As you do this, you discover more about the story and the universe.

As a big brother, this game called out to me, as it is about the relationship between two siblings. Furthermore, it hearkens back to classic platformers and puzzles intertwined with sword and bow combat.

I was sold, so I embarked on my weekend journey to save this girl and I couldn’t wait to delve into a heartfelt and emotional story!

Boy, was I frustrated.

Story

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The story is about a young boy who is on a journey to save his sister. To save his sister from…something.  In fact, there is very little this game has to offer in terms of story to the player. It does have opening, middle and ending scenes that begin to paint a picture of what’s happened, but it comes off as disjointed from the actual game you are playing.

The opening sequence shows the two siblings standing with hands held as they looked up to the sky while fire balls fall and strike the earth. From that, you are plunged into the first level. There is no exposition, no dialogue, and really nothing written to tell you what exactly is going on. However, as you play through each stage, you can find hidden treasure chests with comics that illustrate the relationship between you and your sister and sometimes hint to the story at large.

Despite the three short videos, comics and illustrations that appear in between levels, the game still left me incredibly confused with regards of the story. Although I did miss a handful of the comics throughout the game, most of the comics provided some heartfelt insight into the relationship between the siblings, but left out much of what is actually happening in the present time. Is that my fault? Yes. However, the game is not enticing enough to backtrack and look for the chests, due to some issues I’ll get to later. Admittedly, what I did learn made me want to know what happened.

I understand where the game is coming from; it won’t tell you the story outright so you go back and play it again in order to get the whole picture. That’s fine, but it is riding on the chance that the story entices the player enough to make you want to endure the game play to find out the rest of the story.

Even though the story was confusing with its narrative technique, the cut scenes were so well done that it caused me to choke up once or twice. When the scenes ended and I was plunged back into the game play, it felt like a whole different experience, as if the story it was trying to tell was not the story of that of the actual game. I just wish the game gave me the story and resolution at the end, instead of leaving me utterly confused and asking myself “…what??”

I was hoping the comics were going to be bonus insight into the story, not the entire story.

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Gameplay

When I heard that this game was a puzzle platformer I was ecstatic; a game calling back to the days of classic platformers with puzzles where jumps and traversal required skill and precision was exactly what I was looking for!

From the beginning, Incredible Mandy doesn’t shy away from ledges without invisible barriers and beams you need to balance on. It was pretty easy to over-jump and fall or lose your balance. Jumping to ledges, climbing along, jumping from platform to platform feels really good most of the time.

The game does suffer from the occasional clunky control when you’re trying to jump to a precarious spot and causes you to fall, but that isn’t too much of an issue. The controlling of your character isn’t as snappy as the controls of a Mario game, and you can’t move as fast as you’d like most of the time, which I found as an issue at times and dissuaded me from wanting to retrace my steps to find those treasure chests. A lot of the time, the controls did feel good, but moved way too slowly for my taste and tempo.

I am one who loves hard puzzles in games. The type that have me scratching my head and beating it against the wall until I shout through a bloodied-up face, “Eureka!” This, my friends, is not one of those games, but despite their simplicity the puzzles are actually pretty fun. They are smooth and not terribly convoluted; you shouldn’t need more than ten minutes max on any given puzzle. Though I do look for that challenge, I find them simply fun. In fact, given the atmosphere of the game with the level design and puzzles, I found the game relaxing and zen with regards to the puzzles.

The game also has combat to it; I was looking forward to the platforming of a Banjo Kazooie with the swordplay of The Legend of Zelda. Needless to say, my friends, I did not find that in this game.

The combat was so bad that I feel that it actually takes away from the game as a whole. I earnestly feel that this game would’ve been better without combat in the levels. Throughout the levels are enemies that either shoot you or slash you, which isn’t a big deal. What makes the combat so infuriating is that once you engage an enemy, you can slash them or dodge them, but if they hit you, you are frozen in a stun animation. A very slow stun animation.

You can either dodge or attack an enemy, but if you hit the enemy, they are oftentimes not stunned in the fashion you are if you are hit. Because of how forgiving this game is to a fault (you can fall hundreds of times until you actually die), enemy encounters have zero risk and even zero point to them. They felt so out of place in the stages. There have been occasions when a shooty enemy and a slashy enemy were attacking me at the same time and I was stuck in a stun loop, which took a solid minute to kill me because of how little damage you take and how much health you regenerate.

When I would see an enemy, I would audibly groan; I detested fighting the minions throughout the game. But, “minions throughout the game” are the key words here: the bosses are another story.

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The bosses throughout the game were actually really, really fun and neatly designed. Each of these bosses have some connection, no matter how big or small, to the story and the comics you found in that respected stage.

The formula to the fights were the simple rule of three: find out how to access their weak point, slash at it, they go into another mode, access weak point, slash, and repeat a third time and they die. You win! Each boss has clever mechanics as to how you weaken them and attack them and were really cool in general! That being said, these bosses have their lion’s share of issues: bugs.

Three bosses, three, bugged out on me to the point where I had to restart the fight in order to get past them. The first boss was supposed to have an altering stage, but it did not the first handful of tries against him, causing me to be stuck, wandering around, dodging his attacks wondering what to do, before I realized, “Oh, it was supposed to change…” After restarting it, however, and finally getting it to work, the design of this particular fight was so poor, that unless you know exactly what to do at a very specific instance before the level change, you will be stuck in an infinite loop of dodging attacks without having any way of damaging its weak spot.

Another boss just stopped attacking when it was necessary for me to bait an attack to continue the fight. Twice.

Yet another got stuck in the ground, rendering him invincible.

Despite those bugs, the boss fights were very fun and neat, for what they were. I would have been fine if the game foregone all of the fighting of the minions, and stuck with just boss fights to progress. The bosses aren’t the only things that are bugged to hell and back. No, there is at least one game breaking bug in the game that can only be circumvented if you do a very specific movement before a cut scene, else you are rendered immobile permanently. Honestly, if I didn’t try doing ludicrous rolling around and jumping before this particular cut scene, I literally would not have been able to continue the game.

Other bugs include invincibility bug, which didn’t let me die… or get hurt… at all. So, there’s that.

On top of all of this, the game has no sense of risk or danger, which is exactly what renders the enemies pointless. You fall off a cliff or the stage, you get hit by an enemy, you take a small tick of damage. Full disclaimer, though, that’s a personal issue; I think it takes away from the game for myself, but I can imagine where others would find that welcoming. I mean, like I said earlier, this game has a zen feeling to it, so maybe it is a good thing that it is too easy.


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Visuals and Audio

“Beautiful. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Well, I should say a lot more, than that.

Two very different, yet incredibly gorgeous levels.

Let’s start with the visuals: graphics, art, backgrounds, and drawings. They are all so warm and whimsical. The color pallet is chock full of bright and vivid colors, with each stage having their own palette of colors.

From the bright blues of the ocean, the lush greens of the woods, and the navy blue with fireworks exploding the heavens above a village, the colors in this game are a real treat. The art style can only be described as minimalist, with polygonal modeling of the environments and your character. The art is actually akin to that of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. So, if that type of visual experience is what you like, then this, my friend, is worth playing just for that.

I honestly can’t stress enough on how nice this game looks, for what it is. The colors on all of the levels actually relaxed me; I oftentimes found myself not caring about the flaws of the game, I was just enjoying what my eyes were eating up. And they certainly loved the candy they indulged on.

But the game just isn’t pretty. Important to many games, visual cues are needed to guide the player on the right direction, give positive or negative feedback, and denote important details the player should be paying attention to. For example, the game has these orbs sitting on pylons that your robot buddy uses to travel. Once they have been activated and used, they glow a bright baby blue, letting you know you already used it and you don’t need to worry about it again. And naturally, with boss fights in any game, there need to be weak spots, which this game does with a bright red.

The artwork in the game’s comics and inter-level cards are phenomenal. The comics show the siblings’ childhood and relationship, with fun, whimsical and colorful illustrations. I actually found myself going back to the comic menu and simply looking at the illustrations.

The few cut scenes, or rather video sequences, are anime in nature with what seemed to be very low frame rate. At first, I found it jarring, but after I went back and watched the sequences again I found them compelling. The musical motifs of what I would call the game’s theme track blast through with emotional stringed instruments. The animations are fantastic and I actually felt myself choke up at a point. Especially after getting a feel of the siblings’ relationship from the handful of comics I found throughout the game.

I mentioned the music. The sound and ambiance music profile aren’t necessarily things to write home about, but they aren’t bad. That being said, every level has musical motifs that further lend to the zen feel this game has to offer. During important moments, especially during the end sequence and, well, every animated sequence, you have the Incredible Mandy theme track which is so catchy, that I find myself whistling it at work. The motif makes those emotionally pivotal moments in the animations much more impactful.

This game is a treat for the senses; where it doesn’t feel great to control, your eyes and ears will make up for that, giving the touch to be soft and soothing.

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Conclusion

This game has its faults: it doesn’t really feel good to run around, the fighting is awful, and there are bugs that could completely halt your momentum and probably stop you from playing all together. Permanently.

Nevertheless, there are redeeming qualities to this game: the platforming has a nice touch of classical challenge when you get used to the controls, the boss fights are a blast when they work, the puzzles are easy but fun, and the visuals and audio are incredible.

The story is its own thing, simply because of its narrative technique; it is not bad, but it can be very, very confusing if you don’t find every comic to help flesh out the story. The animated sequences leave out a bit of explanation which can cause some confusion. So, it could go one of two ways; you could end up with half the story or you could end up with a very good story. You just have to put in the extra work.

Let’s boil it down, shall we?

The Pros:

  • Fun bosses

  • Fantastic and relaxing visuals

  • The color palettes

  • Fantastic theme track

  • Fitting musical motifs

  • Masterful in-game artwork

  • Compelling, innocent, and heartfelt story

  • Simple, easy, yet fun puzzles

The Cons:

  • Bosses can be bugged to hell

  • Bugs could potentially halt all progress

  • Combat is awful and pointless

  • Stun-locks are infuriating

  • Stage traversal became tedious, due to speed of animations

  • A very confusing story, if you don’t find enough pieces to the story


After all is said and done, this game gets:


6.5/10


Although I enjoyed my weekend with Incredible Mandy, unfortunately, at the end, I found what would have been a truly great story to be incredibly confusing.

Incredible Mandy was released on November 26, 2018 on the Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and on PC.