App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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From the outside, Afterplace can look a bit like a Legend of Zelda derivative, but after only a short time with the game it's easy to tell there's a distinct vision guiding this experience and that it plans to go places and say things unique to itself. This is (unfortunately) a fairly rare thing to encounter on mobile platforms these days, but Afterplace is also notable for just how strange it insists on getting and the vibe it plays with, even if everything it tries to pull off isn't entirely successful or easy to deal with.
Looking for adventure
Afterplace is an open-world action-adventure game where you play as Yu, a pink-haired wanderer who just so happens to have one of the only weapons that exist in a mysterious world they've found themselves waking up in. With sword in tow, you as Yu wander through the woods, visit town, and talk with people to get a sense of how this world operates and Yu's role in completing an adventure within it.
As it turns out, no one living here seems to be native to the world. They, too, all just woke up here one day, though at different times. Also, there's a gigantic floating sword in the sky that seems ominous and bad. Most people want to go home, but have found some way of life that occupies them in this strange place they are in now for the time-being. One of these individuals is an adventure-seeking mouse who wants to team up with Yu (because of the sword) to figure out more about what is going on, and it's this partnership that kicks off the dungeon-crawling that leads you through the rest of the game world and story.
Going through this adventure is a fairly simple affair. Afterplace is a portrait mode game that is easily controllable by dragging anywhere on the screen to move Yu around and tapping to attack. There are some more advanced maneuvers like swiping to roll or adding another finger to automatically shift the control scheme to control movement and attacking separately, but a majority of the time you'll be prowling through environments that don't require much from you in terms of input.
What the game may lack in control complexity or mechanics it more than makes up by filling its world to the brim with secrets and strange things to discover. Some of these areas and happenings you encounter as part of your journey through the story, but it feels like just as often you'll find a small hidden pathway that leads you to something you could have easily missed entirely. I don't want to get into any spoilers necessarily, but it is important for me to underscore that Afterplace is so thick with beautiful, touching, charming, strange, and surreal locations and secrets that it was the main reason I felt compelled and excited to see it through to the end.
A big part of Afterplace's charm comes from its presentation. Its visuals, music, and writing are mostly not all that sophisticated or ambitious, but they are all so cohesive, confident, and beautiful that you want to keep being in that world, even if it means wandering aimlessly as you internalize a mental map of the game world.
Speaking of which, some of Afterplace's design decisions result in some clunky, obtuse, and--in some cases--not entirely functional moments. These can obviously hamper your enjoyment of the game, but by the end of it I (kind of) understand why some of them were there. On its face it sounds like having no waypoints or maps, for example, are categorically bad ideas, but if you are like me and have some patience to just deal with some design friction and other hinky stuff, the adventure is well worth it (especially now that the game has received a few updates that were needed for me to actually complete it).
The bottom line
Afterplace is one of those games that isn't entirely easy to recommend, but it is undoubtedly special. It definitely hits some Zelda notes, but is also so much more than that. A lot of that "so much more" is rewarding precisely because this isn't a game that has its weirder and rougher edges sanded down to make it abide by prevailing game design principles. Afterplace wears that weirdness on its sleeve and asks you to follow it to where it wants to take you, and I think doing so is well worth doing.