A code for this game was provided by Akupara Games.
I’ve had my eye on Behind the Frame for a while now.
Not just because it openly styles itself after Studio Ghibli’s wonderful sense of character design and animation – though that’s a big part of it.
It’s also got a delightfully soft, slice-of-life air. It promises a slow, thoughtful, and relatively peaceful narrative. The moment-to-moment gameplay is driven by low-pressure, context-driven puzzles.
In short, Behind the Frame presents itself as comfort food.
For some, that may be sorely needed right now. And for me, it’s a welcome treat at any time.
Behind the Frame gives us a window into the life of an up-and-coming artist. Between finishing her submission into a New York exhibition, we get tiny glimpses into her private self and a history with the elderly neighbor outside her window.
And, as quaint as that is in the beginning, the game finds new ways to give a simple premise depth and meaning at every turn. The game established a cadence early on, and I fell right in step with it. It played played with that routine just a bit at first, keeping me on the line through some repetition. And then, ultimately, it used that familiarity to leave me utterly in the dark. Hook, line, and sinker.
It gave me breadcrumbs everywhere, encouraging me to play detective with the protagonist’s well-lived-in and gorgeously-illustrated apartment. Then it added more and more detail until everything washed together, making less logical sense than it did emotional sense. And, for a puzzle game, the latter was often more important to finding my way forward.
The whole game plays out like an artistic interpretation of an Escape Room. Dozens of morsels of information are laid out around you; it’s your job to put them together in a satisfying way.
The Right Framing
I feel like I should talk about something mechanical here, what with Behind the Frame being a video game. And it’s hardly slouching on that front – while it’s hardly difficult, it provides a healthy mix of tasks that feel obvious and questions that ask you to pay attention to your surroundings. In fact, I had to take notes to pass through a certain section, something I so rarely do in puzzle games.
But, honestly, that’s not the point of playing it at all.
The point is in slowing down and taking it all in. The game gives you a full, panoramic view of the protagonist’s living space for a reason; not everything here is meant to be solved. Some of it is purely there to leave an impression on you.
And leave an impression it did.
Behind the Frame runs the full gamut, from a light-hearted opening to a second act colored by dread, and a finale that throws you through a whirlwind of nostalgia.
Not nostalgia for any specific thing, mind you. More the sense that you have a good past behind you, and that it can give you momentum to carry forth.
It’s evocative, and purposeful, but leaves itself open for different people to view it in different ways.
And doesn’t that describe the kind of art that really sticks with us?
If anything, the greatest possible sticking point with Behind the Frame is in its length. Even on my first play-through, it took me less than an hour and a half to play from end to end. Considering my habit of clicking on every square inch of a new room, it may take you even less than that.
But, personally, I’m absolutely in favor of a game that’s so carefully curated. This is the kind of story that I’d want to play through again in the same way that I watch some movies over and over. Every minute feels like time well-spent, either just enjoying its comforting visuals or trying to look at its ambiguous spots from a new angle. From when I started to when the credits rolled, I couldn’t put it down.
It just feels so playable in a way that other games can sometimes miss out on. Sure, point-and-click puzzles are well-trod ground, having had their heyday over twenty years ago now. But Behind the Frame shows that the genre still has new ways to delight us, to invite us into a space and send us on our way with full hearts and open minds.
This is exactly the kind of game I will be – and already have been – directly recommending to people.
And if anything in this article sounded the least bit intriguing, I recommend it to you, too.