Sym – Review
Follow Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Developer: Atrax Games
Publisher: Mastertronic
Platforms: PC, Mac
Tested on: PC

Sym – Review

Site Score
Good: The visuals and atmosphere make experiencing - even if only a fraction of - anxiety disorder very intriguing
Bad: Control scheme isn't tight enough, which can lead to frustrations
User Score
(2 votes)
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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Some games are just meant to be enjoyed. Others love to taunt us with endless “Game Over” screens until we either give up or find a way to beat their nearly impossible challenges. While Sym might steadily grow into the second category as gamers progress through its platform puzzles, its focus lies on an entirely different aspect: that of its storytelling.

One of the many questions in this obscure adventures pertains to the meaning of the name: does it stand for Symplistic, Symbolic, PesSymistic? None of these, it would seem. Rather, it tries to asSymilate – last one, we promise! – the player within its universe of constant fear, as we delve into the angst of Josh, a teenage boy diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.



Josh might appear to be a fairly one dimensional character at first, as he doesn’t really say anything. Or does he? Messages are strewn about the many equally confusing and challenging levels, constantly bombarding the player with depressing – yet sometimes, surprisingly hopeful – phrases. As sadness, angst and hope Symultaneously – sorry! – entwine within Josh and tear him apart, so is his entire world one great dichotomy.

The world fully exists in black and white, just like our protagonist. On his travels through what we can assume is his own psyche, he often finds himself watched by countless eyes, chased by monsters and surrounded by countless dangers. By far the worst is his own paranoia, as evidenced by nearly invisible traps that are eagerly awaiting his missteps.

Often, the only way to overcome his worst anxieties is to literally sink through the floor with shame, retreating into a white, almost inhuman shell of himself. This way, he can inverse gravity to walk into the black world, which is fraught with its own dangers. A peaceful coexistence of two monstrous adversarial worlds or a two-pronged assault on his psyche? This question is constantly begging to get answered, only carving itself deeper into the back of your head while you explore Josh’s definition of fear.



Sym manages to deliver a convincing and wonderfully presented story, which is largely due to its original visuals. The black and white style might not look very intriguing on static images, but its animations more than make up for that. Each level almost looks like it’s one big GIF image, as nearly every element twitches and turns. So does Josh, constantly trembling in the face of his next – social? – challenge.

Often, level elements appear and disappear, following symbols within either the “normal” white world, its black inversion or both as they change the possible paths. Sometimes, the player gets to exert some control over this. At other times, he resembles a plaything, adapting to the moving elements and letting himself move closer to redemption. Or his impending doom, of course, but that is a risk he Symply – somebody stop us! – has to take.


While the game does a great job of presenting its story visually, the effect of its sound design actually dwindles as time goes on. This is because the soundtrack is very limited, confining itself to the same melodies over and over again. Josh makes no sound at all and neither does anything else, so you won’t pick up this title for its amazing sound.



When it comes to the actual platforming, Sym leaves us divided on its merits. Thematically, it all fits perfectly: Josh is a somewhat clumsy teenager who suffers greatly from his social anxiety disorder, so it’s acceptable that he is no Prince of Persia. Moreover, it’s believable that his mood swings and dark thoughts might lead him to moments of desperation where he is willing to jump blindly into whatever the future may bring for him, be it light or dark.

In spite of the thematic appropriateness, however, the control scheme should have been tighter. We have lost count of the number of deaths that could have been prevented if Josh would have been a bit more responsive, or if it was a bit easier to predict the landing spot of his awkward jumps. Technical flaws, such as our hero getting stuck at platform edges, hamper the experience, as well as his aforementioned suicidal tendencies. Forcing us to blindly jump into whatever fate the game might have in store might be exciting theme-wise, but it quickly stands in the way of good gameplay as well.


Also, the dual world platform universe isn’t exactly a new concept. Many have taken on this formula before, and except maybe for the (dis)appearing level elements, the wheel hasn’t exactly been reinvented on this front. This means that in spite of this duality, Sym is essentially a flawed run of the mill platformer where its gameplay is concerned.

The levels clearly aren’t just designed with playful fun in mind, but with thematic relevance as well. Each environment highlights an anxious experience, entrapping you into a world that seems to want to eat you whole. It feels almost indescribably good to escape from the claustrophobia that engulfs us time and again, yet it’s often equally intriguing to see what the next challenge has in store, albeit more story-wise than for its actual gameplay. Should the levels not be entirely your taste or if you can’t get enough after beating the game, it’s also possible to create your own from scratch using the built-in level editor. You know, if you ever want to let people take a look at your doubtlessly disturbed psyche.



Sym is a very interesting platformer indeed. While it may not be technically perfect, with gameplay that is even lacking on some fronts, its presentation more than makes up for it if you’re willing to really invest yourself in the world of social anxiety disorder.

This is a title that, if you allow it, will force you to look at your surroundings as if they were permanently dangerous. It will teach you what it means to be paranoid, but more importantly, it will allow you to feel at least a portion of what someone like Josh needs to through. While it may not exactly be a “fun” platformer in the narrow sense of the word, it will definitely broaden your social knowledge. In and of itself, that’s worth quite a lot as well.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
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Sym - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
Tom Cornelis

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