Behind the Frame Review | Guide brush strokes and solve a variety of puzzles to help an aspiring artist complete her masterpiece amid her brusque neighbor’s gaze and his pesky cat. As her painting starts to take shape, uncover an emotional tale of chance and artistry revealed behind unrelated yet familiar moments.
Developer: Silver Lining Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 1 hour
From the moment I first heard the phrase “escape room puzzles in a Studio Ghibli-esque world” I was sold. A game like this deserved my full attention, so I patiently waited until Christmas 2021 when I’d have more time to spare before downloading it. The cosy evening of the 23rd of December was the perfect time. A time when the wind and rain howled outside, for me to make a big mug of tea and dive behind the frame into a peaceful and wholesome world.
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words
The story centres around you, an aspiring young artist living in a small studio apartment who dreams of of exhibiting her work in New York. Opposite, an elderly painter living with a tabby cat is occasionally glimpsed in a series of dream-like animated sequences. Each day you rise, make eggs on toast, pour a cup of coffee, and work on your painting. To your dismay, each time you power on your laptop you find your application to go to New York has been deleted, and your painting seems further from completion than ever before.
Your goal is to solve enough puzzles to discover more colours to finish your painting in time for the exhibition. But oddly, the details around you never change. The calendar on the wall displays the same date. But, as you play through this short game you quickly discover there’s a greater story unravelling around you in the stillness of art. Your life flits in and out of reverie and darker secrets bubble to the surface.
Who is the old man who lives opposite? More to the point, who are you?
Puzzles in Paintings
Behind the Frame is a puzzle game – and a point and click escape room at that – but it’s also a very narrative, emotionally heavy story. With each new chapter you learn a part of the whole story, but each time it feels like you’re scrambling to recover memories of the bigger picture.
In the escape room world really good storytelling is often missing from physical rooms and puzzle games. With just an hour’s time limit, it’s hard to write detailed narratives. The developers of Behind the Frame on the other hand have started with the story first, and then woven the puzzles throughout the game to support and advance the narrative – and it shows! It’s an incredibly moving story told through satisfying art-based puzzles.
In terms of puzzles, the setting dictates a lot of what can and cannot be done, and most puzzles centre around memory. Players will be shown a detail, and will later need to recreate it in their artwork to progress. In other sequences, players will encounter something in their environment and will need to recreate it on a wooden block puzzle they find in their home. In both cases, the game requires you to pay attention and use your artistic skill to solve the mystery.
At other times, you’ll discover hidden objects around your room and sketch or assemble them like jigsaws in your handy notebook. At no point during this game did I feel any of the puzzles were particularly challenging – but that’s part of the beauty. Behind the Frame is best played in one sitting, and each puzzle will take seconds to solve as not to disrupt the flow of the story.
Studio Ghibli, Eat Your Heart Out
…Haha, I’m kidding. Nothing can surpass a Ghibli film. But Behind the Frame comes close.
There’s a good reason this video game keeps being compared to the infamous Japanese film producer, despite the two having nothing to do with each other. Behind the Frame uses a combination of animated sequences and point and click gameplay. both of which feel lovingly hand drawn and perfectly in place with the style we see in many vintage anime films of the Studio Ghibli era.
What’s more, the story is heartbreaking and full of a sense of loss for a time we aren’t sure we ever knew. Players are encouraged to find the joy in every day life through the peaceful sound of coffee cups clinking and brushstrokes on paper. I am at once immediately at home playing Behind the Frame.
Behind the Frame is a magical puzzle game like nothing else I’ve ever played. It’s a marriage of my two favourite video game genres: escape room and wholesome, and this is a game I’ll be returning to over and over whenever I need a break from reality.
The game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices – however I’d recommend playing it on PC or Nintendo Switch to get the most out of your artistic journey.
The only issue? it’s far too short. At six chapters long, the game is playable within 30 to 60 minutes. I went back and played it twice in order to collect 100% of the Steam achievements – another unchallenging pursuit – and still felt I needed a little more. More paintings, more stories from the girl’s life, more of everything. I need more of the magical whimsy Behind the Frame sprinkled into my life on a cold December evening.
To play Behind the Frame, head to the developer’s website and choose your platform here.