Disorder is confusing at first, tossing you into a hostile world of broken homes and crumbling streets. With the ability to shift between worlds, you have to navigate your way to safety, slipping from one dimension to the next and using the varied behaviors in those two places to get through. In most games, this would be a light and dark world, two parallels that represent different sides. Disorder's focus on depression makes those sides seem eerily similar, throwing you into two desolate worlds, one only slightly more hopeful than the other. There IS hope here, but it's buried deep in a mire of dark thoughts and darker places, and it's not going to be easy to find it.

Disorder's platforming gameplay starts out pretty simple, but is already fraught with danger the moment you begin. This isn't a land like that of Super Mario Bros where it's mostly ground with the occasional pit, but rather pit with the occasional piece of ground. These pieces of semi-recognizable houses, streets, and forests float above an endless void that's just waiting to swallow the player up, so you have to be very careful of your steps right from the start. The controls are tight so it's not a big problem, but is a powerful symbol of the idea that one slip up, one misjudged step, will take you from this world. The world makes it very clear that you are in great danger just from the way it's presented.


It won't be long before you come to a dead end with no way to move on. To continue, you'll need to shift to another plane of reality with the press of a button, which is really the only way to interact with the game besides jumping. As you progress, you'll need to get good with the timing of this world shift, as certain platforms, hazards, and enemies will behave differently depending on the world you're in. It's used in some creative ways throughout the game to make it more challenging, but thankfully, due to a generous checkpoint system, I never felt that it became very frustrating beyond a few areas. It's carefully balanced to make the game more of an experience to play through than one that holds the player back through challenge. It wants you to drift through the world and experience the story rather than find yourself frustrated by some weird series of jumps and planar switches.

Shifting from world to world doesn't make many appreciable differences beyond those shifting platforms, though. Yes, it has important gameplay effects, but visually, it's not much of a change, shifting from a brighter set of colors to one that is heavily stained with darker colors (with an emphasis on purple/violet). I'm used to these kinds of systems having a more dramatic visual effect, but that wouldn't work well with the themes of Disorder. Shifting from one plane to the other is more a slight shift in the main character's hopefulness, changing from sadness to a more crushing depression. The message here is that depression doesn't switch on and off, but rather is something that changes from being something you can live with and bury for a while to something that is outright consuming you. There is no bright and dark world, here; no days where the depression is gone and days when it's there. Even in the brighter day, it is still there, devouring you.


The story shifts tones along with the visuals when you change planes, with bits of dialogue floating by the environment. You will see different words depending on what world you're in when you come in contact with the story, and again, you can see what appear to be slight variations on the story depending on your outlook of the world. Gameplay-wise, this text is a bit annoying as you have to come to a complete stop in the game to read it, but considering these dark thoughts would likely bring someone to a complete halt, paralyzing them when they would be trying to do something, it makes sense, thematically. These thoughts can and should give you pause, stopping you from doing what you want to do as your own mind temporarily takes you out of what you're doing for some unpleasant consideration.

The tone of these words depend on what world you're in, and again, they never shift to anything that feels very opposing. In one instance, the character walks by a drug store, mentioning help. This can be taken to mean seeing a doctor and trying medication, but a shift to the purple realm shows a different side of that help, one leading more to a welcome abyss through drugs. Seeing the dark outlines of shadow shapes slumped against the ground and peering through the window with glowing eyes seems to indicate the unpleasantness of this option, and a striking moment for me as I played through the game.


You can't even stop playing the game without it reminding you of the darkness of depression. Quitting involves choosing between two dialogue options, one where you choose to continue fighting, or another were you finally give in and give up. It gave me pause when I looked at it, and given what I'd been seeing I was almost hesitant to choose the second option and shut off the game. Disorder continually reminds you that depression is something that is very, very difficult to escape, and is more something you can learn to live with through getting help (which isn't easy). There is no light and dark side - no shrugging it off through just shaking off the sads or through taking a more positive outlook. It's not just someone who's down, but someone who is afflicted with a constant, crushing sadness that will not go away. It can only become somewhat bearable.

The pixel artwork really works with this game. There's something innocent about the style that makes some of the more horrible things it depicts a lot more tolerable, but that same innocence also makes it more horrific. Watching the main character freaking out, head held in his hands as his body crumbles to bloody bones is an evocative, unsettling image. Watching terrible things happen in what is, to me, a visual style that reminds me of happiness and childhood, gives it this heartbreaking quality that makes its dark themes stand out. It reminds me of all the days that I used video games to escape sadness, so to see this poor character unable to even free himself from his depression in a game just drove home how powerful depression can be.


Gameplay-wise, Disorder is a fine game. It's puzzles are complex, but not to the point where you'll want to bash your head against a wall. It's more of a soothing puzzle experience, but its themes, and the visuals and design decisions that enforce them, are what gives it an incredible power. It's a bleak look at how depression consumes everything, and how the best you can hope for is temporary respite from it. It is a reminder that those suffering from depression earn every single brutal day they make it through, and that it is a constant battle against the pits and dead ends you can find yourself in. It has solid gameplay for someone who just wants a good platformer, but contains a great power for a player willing to think and reflect on its complex theme.

Disorder is available for $9.99 on Steam and the Humble Store. For more information on it and Swagabyte Games, you can head to the game's site or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.