Pillar begins with a seemingly simple question: Who are you? After entering your name, it then asks a slightly more open-ended question: What are you? There are six descriptors to choose from with terms like ‘Focused’ and ‘Renewing.’ Practically speaking, these questions serve as your save file and your stage select options, respectively. However, they’re also an apt introduction to the heady adventure that lies ahead. I considered for a while whether or not I am more ‘Enduring’ than ‘Capable’, then went with Focused and was initially very confused by what I played.
This is an abstract game, especially up front. The only tutorials to be found are vague pictures in the background that hint at what actions you can perform. The lack of direction is a-okay with me; I’m always elated to find a game that doesn’t hold my hand straightaway. My girlfriend wasn’t nearly as warm to the loosely presented experience. In a few minutes, it was clear (to me, at least) that the main gameplay mechanic of Focused is avoiding patrol guards. Your character can shoot “HEY”s from afar to grab guards’ attention, and you can use the right analogue stick to peek ahead at potential dangers. It’s apparent that you’re supposed to get through these sections without getting noticed because the light, dreamy tunes turn alarming when you’re in a guard’s path. If you get caught, you have two options: press the O button to restart at the most recent checkpoint, or play through a dream sequence and skip the section you’re having trouble with.
The dream sequences are where Pillar makes its best attempt at weaving a meaningful narrative. Phrases like “Get a routine. Deviation is not acceptable” and “The cost of learning everything is a lifetime” are scrawled across the floor you’re traversing. After dream-skipping my way through most of Focused, I started playing through Distant. During the dream sequences in Distant, you chase someone you can never really catch. These were the sections where I felt the most ‘narrative’ being conveyed; sections where I chased someone through a church then into a graveyard. Does it represent a life’s journey leading to death? Perhaps. Distant’s whole spiel is placing sound tiles then buttons to trigger them. It’s an elevated sort of patrol guard avoidance which works decently. I had a bit more success in Distant than in Focused, partially because I had a better grasp on what was going on. Then Distant and Focused met, and I got the whole Magnolia reference I had heard before booting up the game.
The six characteristics are actually paired, an underwhelming revelation that I think intends to be more exciting than it actually is. So you play through Focused, then Distant, then Focused/Distant, with the ability to swap characters and avoid guards together. Teamwork! The other pairs are a bit more effective. For example, Capable begins in an office with the character surrounded by computers. Stacks of money pop up here and there, and Pillar takes a not-so-veiled jab at high score games with a meter in the upper right hand corner. At one point, Capable meets up with Giving and the two of them have to solve lamppost puzzles. These puzzles are probably the game’s greatest success; what I’ll take away from it in a few months. On the left side of the screen, Giving has the ability to turn on numbered lampposts by stepping on numbered tiles. On the right side, Capable’s tiles are color-coded: red breaks down a lamp while blue repairs it. A lamp can’t be turned on by Giving unless it is repaired. The puzzles end up including eight lampposts. I wasn’t compelled to complete too many of them in one sitting. It was during these puzzles that I learned about collecting Notes.
Notes are Pillar‘s collectibles. If you get through a section in Focused without being caught, you’ll earn a Note. If you light up all the lampposts in a section, you’ll earn a Note. Notes translate to jigsaw art pieces that can be viewed from the options menu. The art pieces are pretty and contain some deeper meaning, but they aren’t quite motivators to play the game. That’s my final feeling about the game overall – pretty, with a bit of deeper meaning, but not entirely alluring. The patrol sections of Focused/Distant and the Pac-Man mazes of Enduring/Renewing aren’t nearly as intriguing as the lamppost shuffling of Capable/Giving. Games don’t have to be fun to be good, but I was only engaged in Pillar at the outset, when I had little to no clue was was going on. After its bizarre spell faded, I went back and collected a few Notes before putting it down for a while. I let it sink in and am finding that it’s not as deep as it sets out to be. Oh, and the title comes from the fact that in the end, the characters always meet at a floating pillar, which is probably a metaphor for the afterlife. Think Bone Thugs.
My takeaway from Pillar will ultimately be that the light puzzles were the only enjoyable part of the game. I found myself confused and kind of indifferent to whatever story it was trying to tell. There’s probably some sort of deeper meaning hidden within the game, but I certainly wasn’t enjoying the game enough to want to find it. Eric’s thoughts above reflect much of my own, though I didn’t particularly care for the soundtrack.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
What I Dislike:
- Patrol guard dodging
- Repetitive, tedious gameplay