Developer: Neven Mrgan and James Moore
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Blackbar is not a traditional game in any sense: in fact, it’s probably more a work of interactive fiction than a game at all. But it’s a very different experience, and an engrossing one.

The narrative is framed as a variety of censored letters sent from a woman named Kenty to a woman named Vi. In order to advance to the next letter, each censored word must be deciphered. This is generally done through context clues in the text, and the way that Vi speaks over time, though later on the censorship gets more extensive, and the puzzles get trickier. It’s hard to say just what exactly this entails without spoiling anything – the game is at its most rewarding when discovered on its own!

Blackbar-4Blackbar-3In fact, I found Blackbar and its narrative extremely compelling: I made it to the end in one sitting, wanting to see what exactly would happen next in the story, and what fiendish puzzle would come next. I imagine most people will feel the same: it’s a hard to let go of this! As well, the game’s message about censorship and how its puzzles must be deciphered left me feeling constantly uneasy, like I just never really knew what would be next.

Some puzzles felt like their terminology required guesswork. Others rely on a knowledge of classical literature, or the ability to Google effectively. Of course, for those who get really stuck, Pocket Gamer has a guide to the proceedings. The story does seem to flip-flop between effective subtlety and an almost comical excessive mysteriousness between its two primary types of puzzles.

But whatever issues I might have with Blackbar, this is the kind of experience I’d love to see more of. It’s a novel concept, has an interesting story and message, and uses just the bare minimum of what it needs to in order to convey its entire being. This is a worthwhile and fulfilling experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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