One part Portal, one part Super Mario; Alter Ego is a simplistic little game with curiously big implications. On the surface, you control a sprite of a young fellow (or old fellow, depending on your interpretation) intent on collecting bouncing purple blocks and dodging skulls that fly up and down and run side to side. This character is very much capable of dying, either from skull or by fall. But then there's his alter ego. A less detailed glowing blue outline of a fellow; the direct opposite of the hero in everyway. The alter ego cannot die, unless the character himself dies. When the hero moves in one direction, his alter ego goes another. Where he collects purple blocks, the alter ego plunders the blue.
The team responsible, RetroSouls, is actually just one man named Denis Grachev. Located in Russia, Grachev creates games with a distinctly retro feel but in decidedly forward ways. Playing Alter Ego, I can almost see Grachev all alone in a bitter cold Russian studio, slaving over line after line of code. I'd like to think that it was from such a bitter cold and desolate environment that Alter Ego started life, as it has all the implications of such a conception.
Being part of the Generation Y wave of gamers, I felt a warm nostalgia wash over me while playing Alter Ego. I felt old, young, melancholy, and elated separately and simultaneously. I owe these feelings to the graphics and music and simple game design. The visuals are the simplest thing about this game. Its screenshots alone are nothing to write home about, but playing Alter Ego is different. For all it's visual simplicity, Alter Ego's aestheticism astounded me. The alien plants glow with a blue aura, and the stars in the background fly past with a clear, clean frame rate. It's purple backdrop and ominously glowing mountains are akin to the Limbo style. The chip tune soundtrack, though stretched thin through 40 levels, impresses upon Alter Ego's distinct feel. Like any well-designed game, no one part of it serves a selfish function. Combined with the music, the visuals impart a feeling of urgency on the player, particularly when the screen fills with orbs, skulls, stars, rain, and glow plants. It's really a sight to experience.
The genius of Alter Ego, however, is its impressive ability to relay the human condition with such simplicity. What the character (you) fails to achieve, his (your) alter ego does. This alternative version is invincible, barely visible, and works opposite the character's intentions. In our personal lives we often put on masks to do things we ourselves couldn't, or wouldn't, do. The alter ego is a fabrication of who we are, and is used to further our progress in life. What Superman couldn't do, Clark Kent could, and vice versa. He couldn't very well lead a normal life as a caped superhero, could he? In Alter Ego it's used to progress through the game, without it our hero stands no chance. Grachev uses this to the game's advantage, crafting a ingenious game that requires delicate coordination and balance between two egos. One is not controllable without the other, and at times I forgot which ego I was really in control of.