Puzzle platformers where you control two characters simultaneously, or where you can switch between two characters on the fly, aren’t really anything new, but in Ugly from developers Team Ugly and Graffiti Games you’ll be doing a whole bunch of both of those things. Its mechanics gripped me pretty much right after making my way through the short but sweet intro level, which is basically a tutorial that introduces those mechanics to you, but what I wasn’t expecting is that along with its well-designed puzzle platforming Ugly has also sunk its hooks into me thanks to its very atmospheric world and its very dark and tortured storytelling.
The core gameplay mechanic in Ugly is that you can create a “mirror” anywhere in a level that you please, either horizontally or vertically, and then a copy of yourself will appear on the other side of the mirror line. Your copy will perform all the same actions you do, but mirrored of course. You can then choose to swap places with your copy anytime you want, as long as he isn’t within the outside boundaries of a level or in the darkness of a level. It has to be a lit spot, which sometimes plays into the puzzle designs. Your copy can walk through walls and into the air, anything to mimic your own movements, but cannot actually interact with physical objects. Well, not at first, at least.
The puzzles are all very well-designed, and force you to think way outside the box sometimes at how you can use your magical mirror powers to get to that one weird room, or get on top of that one big platform, or collect that weirdly placed object or key. It’s the kind of game where you might instantly see what you’re supposed to do, or you might run back and forth looking for a way forward, wracking your brain trying to come up with a solution, only to find that the solution was much simpler than you thought it would be and was right in front of your face all along. It’s weird to describe that sort of thing positively, but I’ve found those moments in Ugly to be immensely satisfying rather than frustrating.
The other big component to Ugly in addition to the great puzzling is the aesthetics and story elements. The game is stunningly detailed, and there’s no dialogue to speak of, so stories are told through the environments or short “memory flashback” cutscenes that you can discover and trigger throughout your journey. The story is quite… unsettling at times, but it feels like it’s going to be filled with a lot of meaningful moments. I’m still early on but I’m already invested in learning more about this weird main character and his seemingly traumatic life.
Ugly just launched on PC and consoles this past October so it’s still relatively new as far as mobile ports go, which often don’t arrive until a game has been out for much longer on other platforms. PID Games has done an excellent job with the mobile conversion. I’ve had no issues with its performance and the touch controls work just fine though I’m finding myself preferring using a physical controller. My only real gripe is that the iPhone screen is a bit small for taking in all the wonderful detail that’s crammed into Ugly, and sometimes when you and your copy are traversing to opposite sides of a level the camera will zoom out to keep you both in frame and THEN things can get REALLY itty bitty.
Those are minor gripes though, and by and large this mobile version of Ugly seems to be every bit as good as the one that launched to such critical acclaim on other platforms just a few months ago. We’ll often see games that feel like absolute works of art but suffer on the actual “gamey” side of things, and then we’ve got plenty of games that are stuffed with excellent mechanics and gameplay but are lacking in any sort of meaningful story or soul. Ugly is one of those rare games that nails both gameplay and story in spades, and this excellent new mobile version is just a fraction of the cost of what the game goes for on other platforms.