Devil’s Tuning Fork is an interesting exploration in design which seeks to weigh in on the classic question, “What is it like to be a bat?” (don’t worry, this will remain a game review and not an exercise in philosophical discourse) The game places you in control of a child who has fallen into a mysterious coma who must now explore a strange dreamscape in order to awaken. In order to escape what is eventually identified as a sort of dungeon you must rescue other children and traverse multiple platforming exercises/puzzles. And you must do this while experiencing what it is like to be a bat (sorry, I swear I’ll stop referencing Nagel’s paper.) The overall tone of the game tickles my love of horror and the surreal. But as it is with most things which I love, it isn’t perfect.
At its core Devil’s Tuning Fork is a puzzle platformer. The player is required to navigate jumps and pathways while also figuring out what actions are required to avoid pitfalls as well as open up the path to the end. The puzzles are frequently extremely straightforward and simple, but that isn’t a problem as the difficulty arises elsewhere in the design. However I did find one puzzle extremely frustrating because of how finicky the hit-detection seemed to be. Bouncing a sound blast off of three mirrors in order to hit a gong just right is an maddeningly annoying task; especially when you can’t see.
While the essence of the game was a puzzle platformer, the core mechanic was instead dealing with altered perception. The simplicity of the platforming (ignoring the one triple-bounce puzzle) was offset by the difficulties created by having to walk in complete darkness until you activated a soundwave. To be honest however, I found this wasn’t a source of difficulty as much as it was a hindrance to speed. Playing the game was less about becoming fluent in echolocation and more about watching my feet as I walked slowly forward to make sure I didn’t encounter any pitfalls. In this sense the altered/restricted perception was more useful as a horror aesthetic than it was as experiencing the world through different eyes.
Except even as a horror aesthetic it wasn’t utilized as well as it could have been. The environments and sound design were definitely chilling, but there with no active antagonists there was also no sense of urgency. I found myself instead taking my time to slowly be in awe of the visuals. While this is something I love to have the opportunity to do, it also made it so I was never required to truly be impaired by echolocation, nor was I required to actually learn how to use it actively. The bottom of the screen displays a sort of resource bar to show that there may be a limit to how frequently you can use your echolocation to see, but either the bar recharged faster than it could be expended, or there was just never a reason to use it frequently enough to cause problems due to being able to take one’s sweet time. In fact, spamming the echolocation didn’t really help with faster movements either since the player’s movespeed as almost equivalent to the speed at which the soundwave revealed the environment. This meant if you ran at full tilt, you could only ever see one step ahead of yourself. Now, this could be fantastic if there were a reason to run at full tilt, but again there was nothing goading you to be speedy, and thus I instead took my sweet time to make sure I never made a mistake.
This review may sound critical, but in fact I loved my playthrough and would recommend everyone at least gives it a try (especially since it’s free). My only real issue is that I feel like Devil’s Tuning Fork is just the first step to an even greater game. Though this isn’t much of an issue since I already think of the game as fantastic, so whatever it could evolve into would merely be augmenting an already positive experience.