Preview: Tulpa holds eerie promise

I won't blame you if you've had your fill of artsy 2D puzzle-platformers. While I still enjoy that genre of video games, I can see how some folks may want to move on to something else. Well, before you do that, maybe you ought to give Tulpa a chance, because it looks mighty rad. Developed by Greece-based studio Encryptique, the game presents a solemn, unsettling world rife with death, surrealism, and even a cyberpunk praying mantis.

You take control of two characters in Tulpa. The first is Ophelia, a love-struck woman who goes mad when she discovers that her man has met a tragic demise. The second character you control, as you might have guessed, is the spirit of the dead dude Oliver. You control both characters and solve puzzles by employing their respective strengths. Where Ophelia can interact with tangible objects that are right in front of her, Oliver's otherworldly skills may be utilized to reach objects that are beyond Ophelia’s reach.

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To move forward, you have to push and pull blocks to create bridges and open up new paths. Pulling levers can trigger events. There are even some marvelous environmental events that may be triggered. One such trigger allowed Ophelia to be carried up to a high perch by a massive skeleton hand, which was quite striking to see, especially since the game is being developed using Unity, allowing certain things to appear 3D against an otherwise 2D backdrop.

The abstract solutions for Tulpa’s puzzles really make the game stand out. You're not just stepping on a switch to drop a bridge down. You're not just pulling a lever to open a door. Even when you're pushing blocks around, you're not just dropping them onto a gap to be able to jump across it. The puzzles, though not overly jaw-dropping in and of themselves, are a part of something much bigger — the events you trigger are so staggering and spectacular and grand that it's hard not to want to progress further and see how the world continues to evolve around you.

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You could say that Tulpa has an evident Limbo influence, but I don’t think that's the case. This game is interesting because a lot of it reminds me of different paintings I've seen and learned about in the past. One sequence showed a painting that was leaking water out onto the game world. This made me remember the work of Salvador Dali. Then there was the emphasis on skeletons and ribcages, which reminded me of the infamous self-portraits of Frida Kahlo. In this sense, Tulpa is a lot less Limbo and a lot more surrealist.

That surrealism is used to create a nightmarish world. It's certainly a heavily artistic and aesthetically driven world, but it's a dark, eerie world nonetheless. The creatures you encounter are both breathtaking and horrifying. Aside from the cyberpunk praying mantis and gargantuan skeleton body parts, Tulpa also features a host of other bizarre creatures. One such creature is a giant owl that looks like something you would see during Dia de los Muertos.

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There are clocks and bones aplenty, but Tulpa has a mechanical steampunk look to it as well. You'll see a lot of turning gears and offbeat gadgets, most of which are suspended in the levels to keep the game's dream-like mood intact. It's a world replete with eye-catching surprises, slick detailing, and unnerving terror.

Every time you begin a new stage, you'll notice that it's vastly different from the last. Every single one of the game's levels has a different theme, and according to publisher Rising Star Games, things get crazier and stranger the further the game progresses. It's a world that grows more and more insane as Ophelia seemingly loses her mind and goes mad while being accompanied by the spirit of her dead lover.

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One thing I noticed about Tulpa that may put off a few players is its slow pace. Ophelia isn't exactly a speedy runner, and while we can't expect a woman who's losing her marbles to have the legs of Usain Bolt, her movement seemed a tad too sluggish. That said, the demo this preview is based on isn't the final version, so the speed could change — or it could stay the same to better mesh with the dream-centric themes. Whatever the case may be, the slow character movement should not be a huge offender for most, but some players may not dig it.

There's currently no specific launch date set for Tulpa, though the dev team is shooting for release sometime this year. Encryptique is currently running a Steam Greenlight campaign, and if the game gets enough votes, the studio will push for launch before the end of the year. There's a lot to be fascinated by in Tulpa, so if you want to see the game on Steam, check it out on Greenlight and watch the footage. Even if you think you’re not ready for another 2D puzzler, you shouldn't ignore this project as its art style alone warrants some interest.