According to its Steam description, The Lady is a 2D surreal horror puzzle title. After spending time with the game, I would have to disagree, finding its theme to be something more along the lines of a food poisoning-induced cruise ship nightmare simulator (after binging on every episode of Salad Fingers on a tumultuous sea). And much like a food poisoning-induced cruise ship nightmare, it isn’t all that fun. Sure, you can muster your strength and start heading towards the casino, but you’ll just end up hanging over the railing and releasing cocktail shrimps back into their natural habitat.
Let me start by addressing everything this game does right. The soundtrack is excellent, evoking a sense of otherworldly, uncertain dread; its harsh tones insist that you never let your guard down. This aspect worked for me, although it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I also loved the hand drawn depiction of the actual Lady. She’s bizarre and a little scary, yet she manages to become a sympathetic character (which reads like my Match.com profile). There is a particular sadness about her that is skilfully expressed without dialogue or exposition. Unfortunately, this is where my praise ends.
Playing as the Lady, you shuffle across a 2D plane that is frequently absent of any other visuals besides falling shards of glass, rose petals drifting from the sky, or scissors floating menacingly above. The backdrop is usually just a flat colour framed in shattered glass. The Lady’s abode just isn’t all that engaging a place.
Gameplay amounts to firing projections of your head up and side to side, entering door-like static tears in reality, and the aforementioned shuffling (you’ll shuffle a lot). There are puzzles to solve, but they are generally a bit on the obtuse side, which is unfortunate as they are the game’s primary focus. Let me present an example, and those sensitive to spoilers can skip ahead to the next paragraph. At one point in your hallucinogenic journey, you’ll be halted by some hairy barbed wire-looking stuff. I shuffled back in the other direction, only to be cornered by another hairy barbed wire. I stood, walled in, firing projections of my own head at either side, which proceeded to ping-pong back and forth, damaging me. Finally, frustrated, I just walked into the barbed wire – only to discover that’s the “solution.” Just walk through the barrier. It hurts you, but you push through. This is obviously meant to be symbolic or something, but I just found it goofy and counter-intuitive.
The game also throws up boss fights, although calling them fights is a bit of an overstatement. You fire at them and dodge a single attack or two, rinse and repeat. Then they die and you move on, which made these encounters feel like empty filler. It also doesn’t help when half of the designs are just depictions of the seminal Lady (again, maybe it’s symbolic, but it just came off as lazy). And as far as the horror element goes? I never found myself frightened. Nor was I anxious, perturbed, nervous, on edge, worried, or concerned. I did feel a sense of monotonous drain after dying at certain confusing points and having to restart the whole damn thing over again. I did feel bored with the same assets being used over and over in a starkly empty world. I did feel relief when the game, faced with exiting, asked if I could go on or not.
No, I cannot go on, The Lady. You make me sad, and for all the wrong reasons. You make me sad for what might have been, given a little more time in the creative oven, much like my dozens of failed soufflés sitting on the kitchen counter. People will surely appreciate the time and effort I put into my soufflés, but they won’t be winning any blue ribbons.