Nintendo confirmed that it would have a light release schedule of AAA games this year, but the future is looking great for indie games on the Nintendo Switch. One of the first indie titles of this year worth diving into is A Space for the Unbound. It is a coming-of-age adventure puzzle game where you will meet many who are uncertain about a future that might never come. One thing that is certain, though, is it is bound to have you racing against time, both in-game in hopes of saving the world and experiencing every bit of this short yet memorable story to its end.
The story unfolds in an abandoned train where our protagonist, Atma, and his friend Nirmala read a story they wrote together about a dying princess and her fellow cat who is given a miracle in the form of a bright, yellow flower. That same imagery appears above the heads of a few of the citizens of Loka, a fictional town in 90s rural Indonesia, with Nirmala being the first we witness with it. For some reason unknown to both the player and Atma, he possesses the power to “Spacedive” into the hearts of those who are ridden by their inner turmoil. After helping Nirmala get through her writer’s block, sneaking into her home guarded by an abusive father to obtain a precious item, and attempting to save her from drowning, we suddenly wake up at the Atma’s desk. He was sleeping soundly through school with his girlfriend, Raya, one seat in front of him.
These lovebirds are in their final year of high school and feel bittersweet about what is to come next. Especially Raya, as she is held to high expectations by her peers and teachers, who claim her to be a model student. The last thing she wants is for the adults in her life to make decisions for her. Out of spite, she spontaneously decides to skip school with Atma to go to the cinema. It is there that she decides to expose her supernatural power that allows her to levitate, put money in others’ pockets, and create other realities. Holding such power puts her and the world in harm’s way.
With a lover and the world to save on Atma’s shoulders, you will explore Loka and interact with its townspeople and the objects around you in this 2D pixelated side-scroller. The gameplay consists of completing objectives that are written down in a red notebook unfamiliar to Atma yet has his name written on it. Completing the objectives will progress you towards checking off items on Raya’s and his ultimate bucket list and, in turn, progress the story. These tasks will have you running all over the small town. You are provided a map, but the area will eventually be stored in your memory after running from point A to point B for most of the game.
There are puzzles to play and collections to complete as you progress through the game: beat up bullies, collect bottlecaps, pet all of the cats in town (Yes, all of them. Every single one. You can name them all, too. Good luck with the goal of discovering the fluffiest one!), set the top high score in Atma’s favorite arcade game, and more. Most of the puzzles rely on your knowledge of Loka, as you will need to find objects in certain areas that you are given clues about. This encourages players to explore every bit of each area, talk with all of Atma’s peers and townspeople, and inspect and interact with every object that causes a question mark to appear over Atma’s head.
A Space for the Unbound touches on real struggles, so much so that it warrants a warning by the developers before the game begins each time to make players aware that it depicts anxiety, depression, and suicide. The stories and feelings you experience second hand through the townspeople – an overworked man who can’t properly rest, an ambitious chef indecisive on what path she wants to take her career in, a bully fighting for his unrequited love’s forgiveness to an old man who sadly can’t remember his deceased brother and a young girl who’s bullied and abused by her peers and her own family. – might leave you reflecting on your own life and future. There are some spelling mistakes here and there, but it doesn’t stop one from enjoying this game that does a great job of portraying these experiences.
Although Loka is a fictitious place, it is inspired by real areas in Indonesia, and through this game, it provides educational experiences. From learning about Indonesian cuisines like cimol to discovering keroncong music and having your IQ tested on the history of Indonesia by a group of school boys.
It is proudly Indonesian. It shows not only through its in-game world and visuals but also the team behind it, including its composer for the beautiful soundtrack, Masdito “Ittou” Bachtiar. He’s not only worked on A Space for the Unbound but also other games by Mojiken Studios that received a mention in the game, such as She and The Light Bearer and When the Past was Around. The OST for A Space for the Unbound is available to listen to on Spotify.
The creators were not just inspired by their home country, but pop culture and well-known games during the 90s. Moments in its gameplay will have you chuckle when you catch its references to other games popular during the 90s and a bit after, such as Pokémon, Street Fighter, and Ace Attorney.
Underneath the layers of cute pixelated art and a calming lofi-like OST is a short yet memorable story. It will leave you in need of Atma to dive into your heart after it is shattered time and time again by the tales to be told of feeling fearful of one’s future.
A Space for the Unbound is available for purchase on the Nintendo Switch’s eShop for $19.99. A demo is also available to experience the prologue.