Pillar was developed and published on Xbox 360 Indie Games by MichaelArts. It was released on February 17, 2015 for $4.99. A copy was provided by MichaelArts for review purposes.
Pillar is a perplexing assortment of puzzling mini-games by Michael Hicks of MichaelArts and was released with trophies on PlayStation 4 and as an indie game on Xbox 360. Hicks was responsible for the game’s design, programming, score and other components. In fact, only one other person, Gonçalo Antunes (art), is credited with working on the game in a role other than tester. As a game that was largely created by one person, the attention to detail is significant, and the player can feel the developer’s passion. Hicks also seems to be very sentimental about his work and appreciative of his family, friends and the community. If you have any interest in Pillar, you may want to take a look at this blog post at some point. It’s pretty heart warming.
As for the game itself, it abruptly starts off with a screen asking, “Who Are You?” and then follows with one inquiring “What Are You?” You are then thrown into the game with no rhyme or reason. In fact, you don’t even see a semblance of a title screen until you press pause. While it’s tempting to cut some slack for a lack of features due to the incredibly small team of people behind Pillar, I’ll be treating the title like any other game. Unfortunately, Pillar‘s seeming lack of direction hampers the potential that it could have.
Here’s what I liked:
The art: The art reminds me of the seminal Xbox Live Arcade game Braid. The colors make for vibrant backgrounds in outdoor scenes. The indoor scenes are still colorful but give a feeling of structure and order, even if they’re a bit bland at times. The best art in Pillar belongs to the Distant level, which simulates playing the game behind a clear stainless glass window. Besides the weird character designs, it feels well done.
The puzzles, if you can get into them: Sadly, not all puzzles are created equally. The best is the Giving and Capable numbered floor puzzle. Different levels put you in control of (seemingly random) different characters, and in Giving and Capable you play as a guy and girl whom can only be moved one at a time. The goal is to light every light in the puzzle. The catch is that the guy can only create/destroy and the girl is responsible for lighting the lights. This mini-game is intelligently designed and will make you think. Enduring and Renewing is an interesting Pac-man-like maze with a cool twist: the enemy out to get you is slightly controlled by your movements. Distant was a decent mini-game with a neat concept in which you paint your own distractions (up to three at a time) of floor traps that play a voice that lures enemies away, allowing you to sneak past them. Sometimes the ability felt overpowered, since you’re able to create it any time you’re not being chased by an enemy. Other times, when the enemy ignores the sound made by a trap, you’ll wish it always worked. Focused is a weird stealth mission with your ability being a shout projectile that draws enemy attention. With baddies having extremely long eyesight and the fact that they don’t stop chasing you until you either reach a new location or get caught, this creates an unpleasant mini-game. Thankfully, MichaelArts gives you the option to skip some mini-games through clever movement at the cost of no reward, but I gave in to frustration and boredom and quit out of Focused regardless.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Lack of direction: Pillar feels like an unfocused mess in its game composition, and that is a very big negative. If a game is going to leave players in the dark as to what to do, it should at least create a central area for them to learn the basics before sending them off to whatever may come. Instead, the player is randomly thrown into the game after selecting a name and choosing a level. No help text is provided and no initial story is given for the characters. Even now, I still do not have a clue what the “story” for this game is about except that the characters pertain to the puzzle they are associated with. The game attempts to lay out the general basics of each puzzle in each level beginning via background art but many of the concepts are easily unnoticed or glossed over until a real puzzle presents itself. Afterwards, it’s like throwing darts at a dart board, eventually the concept might make sense. If not, it’s going to be a long day for the player. I had the pleasure of watching my friend choose Focused as her first play choice and immediately get frustrated within the first five minutes after not figuring out what was going on. My first choice to play was Distant, and I couldn’t figure out what purpose the dark world you’re banished to after being caught by an enemy served. It seemed to be a penalty zone players were sent to after failing and before trying again, but it has an art style wholly different from the rest of the game and had a full area to explore. Since the area was dark except for the circle around my character, though, it was too annoying to search the entire dark world map to find all of its content. After playing Pillar for thirty minutes, I was asking what the point of it was. What was the end goal, and what purpose was there to pursuing it? I was self-aware that I was playing a game for the sake of a game and not for its content, which is never a good thing.
Michael Hicks shows promise as a game maker. His music, along with Gonçalo Antunes’s art, creates a good environment to go along with some smart puzzles. Unfortunately, Pillar comes off too abstract for its own good, and accidentally even more so than it’s trying to be. The player is left wondering what the purpose of playing is, as it feels like MichaelArts is trying to leave unclear subliminal messages. The developer may have benefited from a second person assisting in storyboarding the game to create a more coherent experience (it’s okay to be abstract, but creating a good abstract game is a difficult endeavor). While it’s clear the developer put in plenty of effort and maintains a humble attitude, my opinion of Pillar is ultimately more influenced by what seems to be a complete lack of direction and focus.
Score: Skip It