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Gift Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)

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Gift Promotional Art

If you happened to remove the gluttonous themes and gnome-deprived, raincoat-sporting children from the cauldron that was Tasier Studios’ Little Nightmaresand perhaps replace said components with, I don’t know, a sinking ship and an xylophone, then you’d probably wind up with the basic ingredients that comprise Gift, an all-new side-scrolling platforming game by indie developers Toydium and Million Edge. The game, which coerces us into thinking that it’s little more than a happy-go-lucky endeavor on a cozy cruise liner, certainly has a darker edge to it, I’ll say that much. Don’t get me wrong, it is cute, and its characters are often questionably friendly and warmly spoken — but there’s a clincher, and it just so happens to be the hidden ingredient in what is, in fact, a rather ominous concoction of emotions and underlying turmoil.

If you did miss out on the debut of Gift, then just know this: it’s a whimsical, albeit highly gloomy side-scrolling game that takes the core infrastructure of Little Nightmares, Bramble, and, say, Unravel, and with it, lays the groundwork for its own brand of storytelling—a premise that revolves around a sinking vessel, a cabin of passengers with their own motives, and, if you can believe it, a treasure trove of monsters. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then allow us to sink into it a little more. Care to join us as we submerge into the opaque depths of the cruise liner? Then let’s jump right in.

The Buoyancy of Life

Character running through ship lobby (Gift)

Gift begins aboard a luxury cruise ship—a liner that’s, while evidently fastened with all of the appropriate bells, whistles, and precautionary measures, has fallen on rather bleak times. As a passenger aboard the vessel, you awaken to the sound of a thud, followed by a unspoken message that essentially instructs its passengers to flee for their lives and toward their nearest safe haven. But, there’s a problem: you don’t quite know where you are; on the contrary, you’re lost, and somewhere in the depths of the ship. So, what can you do? Well, aside from strafing to the far right to unlock various doors and contraptions and what have you, you also need to check in with other passengers—folks who, while not always morally correct or emotionally stable, have their own agendas and dire wishes that need addressing. That falls to you to deal with, apparently.

Gift offers a unique blend of exploration and puzzle-solving elements—two keystone aspects that fill out the vast majority of the closest alternatives in the genre. Like Little Nightmares—a game that invites you to explore a docked vessel that houses a myriad of twisted personalities and depraved guests—the bulk of your journey involves having to venture into various rooms, private quarters, chambers, and engineering facilities, and solving several environmental puzzles and curveballs. Think any platforming game ever—you move boxes to create stackable towers to climb, and unearth crucial items to unlock doorways, and so on and so forth—and you’ll have a vague idea of what its core gameplay elements value. The only major difference here, of course, is that the setting is forever changing, which means that you also have to tackle slanted landscapes and crumbling gadgetry and what have you. Great.

Don’t Panic

Character running away from tidal wave (Gift)

It comes as no major surprise, but given the fact that the ship is, quite literally, on the verge of cascading down into the bottomless abyss of the ocean, several of the guests aboard the vessel aren’t going to be overly courteous about the situation. As a result of this, they will resort to taking matters into their own hands — even if it means chasing you down a corridor. And it isn’t only the guests that make vows to chase you, either; Gift is also made up of several creatures and other nautical folk, too. Honestly, though, given the fact that each character is a visual representation of some sort of personality trait or career choice, it’s hard to differentiate between the two.

An example of a set of characters in Gift would be the two rings—a pair of characters that, while technically readable by their bow and bouquet attire and made all rather clear that they’re the objectified versions of a married couple, it isn’t always painstakingly obvious that they’re good, bad, or somewhere between. There are times, too, that you can’t quite tell who’s going to aid you, and who’s going to put themselves above you in order to secure their own safety. At times, it’s easy to tell; for example, there could be a little girl with her mother, whereas other occasions you might find a portly cigar with a lit fuse and a businessman with a computer monitor showcasing the latest stock market surges for a head. It’s a mixed bag of characters, I’ll say that much — but to say that they’re hardly memorable would be untrue.

Strafing Right

Character hopping on xylophone (Gift)

Gameplay-wise, you’re looking at about a five-hour campaign, which you might be able to sweep under the rug in a shorter period of time, depending on whether or not you choose to favor a few extra collectibles. Aside from that, though, it’s all rather A-to-B, in the case that, in order to progress deeper into the story, you need only strafe to the side, or to some form of room or internal space aboard the ship. In a typical fashion as a lot of platforming-puzzle games, each of these rooms often accommodate a range of puzzles, which mostly consist of having to move boxes, rearrange items, or transport set piece A to socket B, etcetera etcetera. There are also several catastrophic scenarios that take center stage in the game, too—occurrences that, depending on where you are in the vessel, can alter the layout of the room or chamber.

There isn’t any dialogue in Gift, but rather, a selection of grunts, giggles, and random sounds that don’t necessarily make any sense — at least not to the viewer, anyway. In spite of it having no dialogue, though, it does at least make a genuine effort to cement over the gaps by producing a compelling musical score and fueling its fires by adding a mixture of well-oiled thematic effects, transitions, and gestures. And, to be fair, that’s all it really needs, as the setting alone practically speaks for itself, weirdly enough.

Thankfully, Gift isn’t a terribly complex game; in fact, the controls are so minimal, that it’s almost impossible to overlook a lot of the issues that stand before you. Needless to say that, if you have endured one or two of these sorts of voyages in the past, then it’s unlikely that you’ll struggle to make short work of, well, anything.

Verdict

Character conversing with married duo (Gift)

There’s a tremendous amount of quality content in Gift, which—and I’ll apologize in advance for this—makes it a gift in itself, truly. The point is, if you do adore the likes of Little Nightmares, and aren’t entirely sure which port to dock at ahead of its third chapter, then honestly, you needn’t carve any deeper than the depths of this one. It’s a fantastic game, and arguably one of the most memorable I’ve had the pleasure of playing in recent memory, too. Is it a little on the easy side? Perhaps. But then, it wasn’t necessarily the complexity of the mechanics that led me deeper down the rabbit hole; if anything, it was the whimsical score and cast of characters that kept me forever guessing who and what would pop up next. And, to be fair, that momentum was kept alight for the duration of the ride.

I can tell that a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears went into the formation of this particular project, and so, it doesn’t take much for me to give credit where it’s due. Granted, the price of admission (that’s $25, for the record) does seem a little steep for a mere five-hour game, but given the fact that it not only plays extremely well, but also performs well both aurally and graphically, too, the price tag does seem rather fair. Could it do with offering a little more bang for your buck? Maybe, but I’m not about to raise a complaint and label it as a shameless cash grab — because it is anything but that. No, this is, in all honesty, a solid entry into the catalog, and definitely one that you should consider checking out the next time you’re looking to, you know, purchase a gift. Sorry.

Gift Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)

The Gift of Nightmares

Gift is, more or less, a love letter to its chosen genre and all things weird and wonderful, and not to mention a testament to the sheer beauty of its creator’s ability to conjure original worlds with heart and soul. Aside from if sporting a generous collection of intriguing characters, it also delivers a surprisingly compelling story that, although relatively short and by-the-numbers, has the potential to be an award-winning indie, for sure.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.