So here it is once again - Christmas is less than 48 hours away, and has become tradition on Big Mean Flash Gamer, I'm taking a little time out from my usual constant stream of bile and disgust to review a game from the past year that I loved. Christmas spirit, and all that. Of course, considering I'm a cynical, bitter twenty-something whose father still thinks a bottle of Old Spice he bought at the supermarket the day before I arrived home is a good present, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the game I review this week is probably one of the most depressing of 2009 - The Company of Myself.
At first glance, there isn't much to differentiate The Company of Myself from any other 2D platform puzzle game. You control a man in a snazzy top hat through a strange, dream-like world full of platforms and bottomless pits, trying to reach a green door that will take you to the next level. It's all very simple and remarkably well-assembled, but that isn't any reason for me to mark it out for special treatment.
What most endears me to this game is the gentle humour that begins right from the preloader and on through the first few levels. It might not be laugh-out-loud funny, but it does raise a wry smile and it makes the tutorial sections seem like a lot more fun.
But The Company of Myself has more going for it than a few witty lines of text. The puzzles usually require you to reach places that seem unreachable, necessitating the use of "shadows" that replicate your movements. In the simplest terms, you perform an action, press the Spacebar, and the level will reset, but with the addition of a transparent sprite who mimics your previous actions.
You can use this shadow as a platform or to walk through barriers that block your way. They can even pull levers and activate the green doors for you, both skills that come in handy as you progress. The puzzles are simple to understand but difficult to solve, making for a challenging experience that nevertheless satisfies. I've played a lot of God awful puzzle/platformers this year, and it's always refreshing to find a title that gets the formula right.
Still, is that enough to give The Company of Myself my annual Christmas thumbs up? Probably not, but what really wins it for me is the poignant and frankly heartbreaking story that emerges in the later levels. We learn about the protagonist's lost love, a girl who helped him overcome obstacles in the past before tragedy intervened. This tale is recounted in the form of flashbacks, hazy memories that play with the conventions already set up, giving you two independent characters to control instead of numerous automatons. I don't want to give away too much about this doomed relationship, but I can say you will feel partly responsible.
Straightforward gameplay, logical puzzles, great humour giving way to an emotional final act - The Company of Myself is one of the best all-round games I've played on the Internet this year. With twenty short levels there's enough to provide a good challenge that can still be completed during your coffee break. You'll probably come back to it numerous times, however, drawn to the wonderfully constructed narrative and the incredibly sad conclusion. Because hey - sorrow and disappointment is what this season's all about, right?
Happy Christmas to all. Don't overdo it on the eggnog.