I want more games to utilize Match-3 systems. There isn't any particularly deep reasoning behind this, I just enjoy matching shapes and then watching them clear away. When Puzzle Quest combined it with RPG elements, that quickly became my jam. It's shocking that more games don't follow on from that lead. Thankfully, The World Next Door caught my attention by utilizing these elements and combining them with an interesting setting and characters. Is this a world worth losing yourself in, or should you stay at home?
The World Next Door takes place in an alternate version of Earth that neighbors a parallel dimension called Emrys. Every 20 years a portal opens up between the two worlds for one day, and this is the only way someone can travel back and forth. You play as Jun, a normal human who wins a lottery to spend the day on Emrys. Unfortunately, things quickly go wrong when Jun misses the return portal home. Now trapped, she needs the help of her friends to figure out a way home. Along the way, they also look into some mysterious shrines full of monsters, and a pair of missing students that may possibly be related to the entire thing. Oh, and they're on a time limit, as the natural magic of Emrys is slowly killing Jun.
The plot manages to quickly be interesting, not wasting any time in setting up the central conflict and diving into the story. It helps that each character feels fleshed out. I loved spending time with them. From the bombastic Horace, who is now basically my best not-Gregg friend, to the popular girl Lux, who feels like she came right out of the movie Mean Girls. As much as I love this plot, there are a few loose ends that either lack major expansion or end unsatisfactorily. Without going into spoiler territory there's one major plot point that gets wrapped up in the concept art during the credits, which is awkward at best.
The basics of The World Next Door has you going through various shrines in an effort to collect special glyphs. Monsters known as Grievances populate the shrines, so naturally, you'll have to sling a few spells at them to get them out of your way. Each combat arena takes place on a grid. Each spot on the grid has one of six runes on it. If you find three or more similar runes matched then you can cast a spell, allowing you to throw fireballs, electrify the floor, hurl enemy-slowing black holes, and more. You can also move runes around, allowing you to swap the position of two runes on the ground at any point. Combine four or more runes and you'll spawn special ones that, when combined in specific shapes, allows you to summon your allies into battle for unique skills.
All of this sounds great, and at first, it really is. There's a charm to the combat system, and all of its ideas are in the right place. I enjoyed rushing around the field, dodging fireballs thrown by enemies so I could place glyphs and set up combos to smack them around. Sadly, after a while, I wished for more. There are no RPG elements, and you don't learn any new abilities during the game. The only new skills are being able to use more abilities involving summoning friends, but that doesn't quite feel like enough of a reward. Without this, I was still tossing the same fireballs in the first fight that I was in the final.
It also doesn't help that the combat system seemed to require more precision than The World Next Door was willing to give. Despite the field of grids before me, I often found myself standing on top of a square unable to play a glyph or move them around. Instead, I needed to be standing in very specific spots in the square. Since the game takes place in real time, and many enemies have tactics that are "bumrush Jun and deal damage when next to her", suddenly being unable to actually use your abilities for no discernible reason was simply not acceptable. It turned a fun combat system into a drag. At least the included assist mode will make Jun invincible if you have difficulty or just want to move on.
If you're not fighting things, then there are some simple puzzles to solve. Puzzles either require you to figure out the best way to cast spells to destroy objects in the room or figure out how to combine all glyphs to erase them all. Both are rather simple, and you can keep trying them over and over again until you've succeeded. If you want, you can skip all the puzzles and still unlock everything on offer.
This is something rather strange about The World Next Door. There's quite a bit of optional content, such as side quests, yet you don't get anything for doing it. Between shrines, you can explore a school campus and talk to the students. They'll ask you to find missing baseball caps, solve who's sending them love letters, and settle debates about which band is the coolest. This is fun worldbuilding with side characters just as entertaining as the main cast.
However, at the end of the day, there are no gameplay rewards. Which is especially strange when you consider that some side quests have you go back to shrines and pull out actual physical rewards that do nothing. When I find a book of awesome combat spells, I expect to learn a combat spell or at least get a passive buff. However, it just sits in your inventory and provides nothing but flavor text.
At least the game was always nice to look at. The character's designs are unique, feeling like a smart combo of human and spirit-like qualities. The monsters are even better, and many of the Grievances are fantastically awesome, such as self-mutilating werewolves or strange multi-limbed floating women. There's also a great soundtrack to go with The World Next Door, always fitting both the peaceful moments and the more dramatic ones. I never felt like the presentation was lacking in any way.
I just wish I could say that for the rest of The World Next Door. A great story and presentation certainly help the game a lot, and I'd absolutely love to see more games set in Emrys. However, the gameplay simply can't hold up. The clever mix of match-3 spell throwing is not at the level it needs to be. While that may be fixed down the line, I still had a good time with The World Next Door by the time the credits rolled. It was just a shame learning the grass wasn't really greener on the other side.
TechRaptor reviewed The World Next Door on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Great Story and Characters
- Clever Gameplay Ideas
- Fantastic Presentation
- Few Plot Points Dropped
- Clunky Gameplay Execution
- Strange Pointless Sidequests