Among the boom of indie games, there’s one theme that seems to come up more than any other – the idea of games as art. Bliss presents a simply stated case, with a slow, dreamlike play style, aesthetic, and soundtrack. Nominally a game exploring the stages of grief through a wordless story, it’s a simple yet largely effective platforming puzzle game that presents itself without complication. Without so much as a tutorial or guide, players are tossed immediately into the tale of a shadowy figure wandering ever-forward through the memories of another.
Bliss does a lot without the trappings of modern games. There’s no text, no complicated controls, and no flashy graphics. By disposing of these, the game creates a quickly-immersive experience. A muted art style, calming music, and direct but complicated puzzles weave together a relaxing experience that’s not without it’s challenge. While the early goings present little to no challenge for any experienced gamers, things ramp up before long as the game adds in a time-freeze power that makes the going even more complex.
With its light, easy-going opening scenes, Bliss pulls players in to the unspoken story quickly. Short scenes depicting a youth and his mother, and the shadowy figure under player control seems to be seeking something — though it’s never explicitly stated what. All the same, the impulse to move forward drives the action on. Each scene brings our nameless protagonist to another door that must be opened, generally requiring that each of a series of face-like masks be touched while time is stopped to prevent their return. Bouncing across these strange manifestations is the core behind each of the game’s many puzzles.
While Bliss doesn’t take much time to present its story or weave a complicated narrative, it crafts a touching experience all the same. The surreal, dreamlike qualities of its art, sound, and play make it unique and compelling, though gameplay sometimes feels hindered by the slowness of movement and puzzle repetitions when you’re stuck somewhere. While there’s no penalty for ‘death’ beyond a return to the left side of the current screen, things can still get frustrating when you’re unable to see or reach the path from one puzzle to the next. Still, when things are going your way, it’s difficult to deny the relaxing nature of the game.
With its touching story and surreal qualities, Bliss creates a calming change of pace from more action-oriented gaming. While it’s certainly not for those who like their games fast and loud, it has a particular charm that makes it worthwhile. Asking a pretty modest $7.99 on Steam, there’s enough content and challenge here to justify the price, but I might still err on the side of waiting for a sale. A lack of gamepad support and relatively limited options keep it from being a stand-out title, but the subdued musical accompaniment and hand-painted aesthetic definitely make a memorable impression that give cause enough for those looking for something different to give it a try.