App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Behind the Frame is a meditative puzzle adventure game about a young woman who spends her days behind the canvas. Her life is largely routine, with occasional distractions only arising from her neighbor she can observe out her window and her search for missing paints to complete her opus. What starts as a very simple and procedural affair evolves over time to develop layers of storytelling and gameplay, both of which work to paint a perfectly pleasant experience.
Eat, sleep, paint, repeat
The opening of Behind the Frame depicts the idyllic life of our young artist. They wake up, make some coffee, throw on some music, eat a satisfying breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day sketching and painting in their incredibly well lit and spacious apartment. Each day you spend doing this, you learn a little more about this artist and their life, all while filling in pieces of their current oil painting project.
You play all of this routine out much like you would in many first-person adventure games on mobile. You swipe around on the screen to adjust the parts of the room you can see, and then tap on items or places of interest to zoom up for a closer view where you can then interact with the objects there. As simply as this all starts out, though, it's clear that something isn't quite right with this artist, and the only way to find out what's really going on is to keep living out the routine to see what changes over time.
Fill in the missing pieces
Behind the Frame is divided into chapters which mostly correspond with a new day, and each new day reveals little by little that this game isn't just simply about the routine of creative work. Observations of the neighbor across the street, interactions with his cat, and some changes in weather prompt memories from the young painter's life, which ultimately change the way her regular routine operates and how you as the player perceive it.
That might sound a little cagey, but I am hesitant to reveal too many story details. Much of the driving force of the game is uncovering a more significant story than what lies on the surface. To dig deeper, you will also encounter some light puzzles around filling in parts of other paintings or and gathering clues in your artist's sketchbook. There's no hint system to guide you for any of these if you get stuck, but fortunately most of them are straightforward enough that with the direction given from your player character and your limited surroundings do a well enough job of helping you eventually find solutions to progress.
Art with inner beauty
As you can tell from just about any still shot of Behind the Frame, the game's real selling point is its artwork. With a bright, realistic, anime style that animates beautifully (though only lightly), portions of the game really do feel like you're playing inside a high quality slice-of-life animated series. That said, I am a little divided on the game's depiction of art in the game. Telling a story about art and artists can always be tricky since there always comes a time where you might have to or want to actually showcase that art, and the art that is shown here is... underwhelming, especially compared to the rest of game looks.
This isn't a huge deal, though. The art projects of the artist you play as feel more like props for puzzle-solving than anything else, and luckily the story that unfolds out of playing through the game has a genuinely natural reveal that is touching, even if it is telegraphed a little too much. You can reach this reveal and ultimate conclusion with just a few hours of playing, but the game by no means feels too short for the mecahnics its deploying or the story that it's trying to tell.
The bottom line
I really appreciated Behind the Frame for its sense of style and storytelling. Too many first-person adventure games on mobile adopt the dark aesthetics of The Room games, so to see something that fits in a similar mold be so bright and stylized is really refreshing. Nothing it does is extraordinary, but all of Behind the Frame is beautiful and enjoyable nonetheless.