A Fold Apart, from Lightning Rod Games, is a 3D puzzle game that explores the emotional struggles of a long-distance relationship through a unique mechanic; folding the page of the screen to bring together platforms, clear them, and help the couple cope with their distance.
I got the chance to play the demo at PAX West 2019 and while I found it too easy for a puzzle game at the time, I’m glad that I got the chance to check it out and watch the puzzles and level design shine through the full game available. While we’ll get to the mechanics later, we have to talk about the emotional narrative first. After career choices force them down separate paths, Alex and Sam vow to make their relationship work despite the challenges of living apart.
When communicating through text messages, misunderstandings are inevitable and they begin to push the couple apart. As the characters misinterpret each other, emotional barriers begin to erect between them, causing physical ones to materialize in their path. This is where we come in.
Whether it’s in a dream or it’s an emotional spiral after reading a text message, the story moves from communication to a platforming puzzle. It’s up to us to help the couple safely navigate around their relationship hurdles and find a way forward. To succeed, we need to navigate the platforms and avoid the broken hearts by folding and flipping the pieces of paper that these characters inhabit on the screen. In A Fold Apart, you must pick the right combination of paper flips and/or folding in order to traverse the distance between the couple.
A Fold Apart uses its platforming to make players think in a more dynamic way. Instead of moving linearly like other side-scrolling platforms, you have to decide which side to move to, which side to fold over, and when to flip the paper over. With over 50 unique paper-folding puzzles exploring the emotional journey of Alex and Sam, the game builds on each previous fold to make the player think outside of the page to move Alex or Sam through their emotional experiences.
In addition to an emotional story that will resonate with anyone who has dealt with making the hard choice of continuing a long-distance relationship, the art style of A Fold Apart is beautiful. The blocky texture of folded paper presents character designs that stand out. It’s bright and moody at the same time, using warm colors and cool colors to showcase the two sides of the couple and distinguish the two sides of the paper. Now, none of the puzzles are extremely difficult that normally frustrates me with games built on puzzle mechanics, but in A Fold Apart, this allows you to focus on the story.
Each puzzle is matched to the difficulty of the strain on Alex and Sam’s relationship. One of my favorite elements of the story is allowing the player to choose how to respond to your partner from generated texts, allowing the player to get into the emotional headspace like you’re texting someone you know. Additionally, when the two are texting, there are moments where one a text is read and their mind begins to race, going towards the most negative outcome. “We were together in the same city” turns into, “how dare he disregard that I don’t want to live in the city,” and as the character works through the anxiety spiral, you move them through the platforms, solving puzzles and leading them to the end of it.
Finally, Lightning Rod Games’ choice to attribute non-binary names to its couple is a step towards inclusivity in romance games that should be the norm but isn’t just yet, This choice also allows players to choose from same-sex and straight couples, offering up four combinations to choose from. While the main couple advertised is straight, the additional two characters also showcase designs that aren’t necessarily coded as specifically male or female, allowing the player to choose a story that they can see themselves in.
My only issue with the game is that the controls while playing on PC, while simple, can cause you to become disengaged from the game. Click the paper, move left to right, press space to send a text, it’s not entirely immersive which led me to sit back and begin to lose myself and get distracted after about 30 minutes. That said, since the game is also available on the Nintendo Switch and Apple Arcade, it’s very easy to see how these mechanics are perfect for those platforms.
Overall, A Fold Apart is full of emotion and heart that you can feel in the story. Additionally, the story can help people understand what their significant others go through when miscommunication happens. That empathy-building is to be commended. While the game isn’t perfect, it is charming and makes for a relaxing playthrough, especially as some are separated from their partners while the world is in self-quarantine.
A Fold Apart on Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam) on April 17, 2020.
A Fold Apart
A Fold Apart is full of emotion and heart that you can feel in the story. Additionally, the story can help people understand what their significant others go through when miscommunication happens. That empathy-building is to be commended. While the game isn’t perfect, it is charming and makes for a relaxing playthrough, especially as some are separated from their partners while the world is in self-quarantine.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.