She Remembered Caterpillars, developed by Jumpsuit Entertainment, is a beautiful, dreamy puzzle game described as a “fungipunk fantasy.” Its world is a lush tangle of organic growths and neural pathways, punctuated by brightly colored “gammies” (genetically altered micro-mycoparasites) that you guide through the maze of a dying man’s brain. If nothing else, it’s moody and gorgeous.
The puzzles in She Remembered Caterpillars are based on color. Your basic units—red, yellow and blue—can be combined, separated, stripped of one color and dyed another. Depending on the color of the unit, some bridges can’t be crossed, some gates can’t be entered. The color-mixing mechanic is easy to grok and fun to play with, and each new mechanic is introduced in an organic way. Many of the puzzles are decently challenging, and some will have you backtracking and experimenting with different strategies before you have your ‘aha’ moment. They tease your brain just enough to make success feel like a victory. As you progress through the levels, the puzzles become more and more complex, and alongside them, a story unfolds about a daughter trying to save her father.
“When the story hits the right nerves, it’s almost a meditative experience.”
This is where the game falters a bit. I wanted to love the story, and I do love parts of it. It hints at a few interesting things: the world is some kind of dim dystopian future, completely devoid of sunlight. There’s something called ‘the harvest’, which is implied to be a way for the elderly or dying to donate their bodies to grow fungi for food. Science has progressed to the point where the daughter can seed happy memories in her father’s brain, a kind of slow-release time capsule.
The writing is successful when it provides these concrete details, contextualizing the gammies in a morbid yet beautiful way. In guiding these little creatures, you’re at first trying to help the daughter save her father, and then, once she’s accepted his death, you’re there to help her deliver stories of happier times.
“Do you remember the caterpillars in the garden?” she asks her father. “They were green and small and you said if we followed them, we’d find the sun.”
Unfortunately, the writing in some of the “chapters” between the levels is a bit clunky and vague. This makes the story something that’s mostly nice to have, whereas if it had been delivered more sparsely and cohesively—as in, for example, Braid—it could have enhanced the game even more in an incontrovertible way.
“Ultimately, She Remembered Caterpillars is about transformation.”
On the bright side, when these narrative missteps happen, it’s not that distracting. It’s telling that writer Cassandra Khaw told Eurogamer that she drew inspiration from processing her own father’s passing away. This personal angle to the story suggests that perhaps the blanks are left there for players to fill in on their own. Death is, after all, a personal subject, and one that doesn’t neatly tie up all loose ends.
Thematically, the story supports the gameplay in all the right ways. The artwork and sound design are fantastic, with charming animation and a soundtrack that’s eerie plus just the perfect amount of menace. Once you know more about the story, the organic pathways you must take begin to seem, despite vivid scenery and adorable characters, a little macabre.
Ultimately, She Remembered Caterpillars is about transformation. Colors blend seamlessly together, and life transitions to death. The story is told in seven acts, each climbing higher and higher up something that at first looks like a tree, then some kind of imaginary space needle, then into the stars, then up and away into a luxurious tropical paradise.
The environment is alive and magical, and when the story hits the right nerves, it’s almost a meditative experience. Lights flicker in the background like live neurons firing away in a dreamless sleep. The landscape is by turns beautiful and grotesque, sometimes taking on a sheen that’s a little too biological for comfort. Trees, spangled with mushrooms, blink patiently at you when you make a mistake in your efforts to reach the end. You never feel pressure; you know that you just have to find your way again.