White Shadows is the very first game made by German indie developer Monokel. Although the game tries to tackle very dark themes, such as racism, xenophobia, suicide, and more, the game fumbles throughout its commentary. The way the game handles these themes is suitable (in my opinion) for most ages since the characters are animals and most have vague and ambiguous designs, but it’s dark nonetheless.
White Shadows is a puzzle platformer that takes place in a dark and dystopian metropolis where the Birds are at the bottom of the hierarchy. You play as a Bird attempting to escape all of this while Wolves and others try to keep you in your place.
In this world, there are also Pigs. The Pigs look sad and depressed with very drained and expressionless eyes, sounds, and posture. Baby Birds are hyper and friendly, but are naïve, being easily tricked into getting ground up and killed. Other animals are present, but they hide themselves from sight. They cower in the operator booths of security machines and weapon emplacements as they attack you and all the other animals that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You will see very bleak things in this game, like Pigs being killed to make energy and drinks. You will also see plenty of moments where your fellow Birds are caged by the Wolf Master Race (yes, White Shadows starts to get fairly blunt). Other Birds are herded into labor camps to work until they are butchered. They lay more eggs for labor, energy, food, and whatever else the Wolf Hierarchy demands.
A Visual Experience
One thing I enjoyed about White Shadows‘ narrative is how it uses “show and tell” storytelling. Every frame is full of signs, icons, and images that reflect the world and the story. It allows you to take in the details and messages hidden in the environment and put them together while still understanding the developers’ message. Characters don’t speak an intelligible language (for the most part), so it’s up to you to figure things out. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed the sights and style Monokel went with.
Although it starts off this way, the storytelling of White Shadows fumbles when you get to Chapter 2’s end when the boss enemy more-or-less starts talking to you directly.
A Fumbling Narrative
After this boss fight, the game tries to keep it vague and only implies things, but it begins to sprinkle in very racial and somewhat real-life phrasing that is reminiscent of various slogans and mottos and claims made against races in real-life. It also has elements that imply things such as systemic racism. At first, it didn’t seem too strong on the implications, but it still has some one-sided undertones that are very hard to see as vague or up for interpretation.
Just as fast as they went from speaking their gibberish language to speaking outright English, White Shadows lost some of that mystery and imaginative style that gripped me in the beginning. After this point, the game begins losing touch with itself. While Chapter 3 also adds effectively vague narratives that leave a little up to the player’s interpretation, it’s still heavy-handed, following how they run with the narrative after that boss fight from Chapter 2. The game quickly loses the strengths it originally possessed.
Now would I say the shortcoming in the narrative killed it for me? No. But would I say I enjoyed it like I did at the beginning? No. The game was at its strongest for me only at the first two chapters, despite the nice introductions to each one after.
Games like Oddworld tackle things like slavery and harsh environmental problems too, but go about it in tasteful and consistent ways. White Shadows tries to create an engaging commentary, but just can’t keep the narrative from becoming tiresome.
I paid $17.99 for White Shadows (undiscounted price: $19.99), and I beat it in 2 hours and 1 min. This is counting me screenshotting and recording the game for highlights in this review. If I had just played it straight through, I might have been done in 1 hour and 30 mins. I don’t think game length makes the money, mind you; short games can be worth plenty, in my opinion. But for White Shadows? I am not so sure.
Maybe the Big Bad Master Wolf blew my house down too hard when he turned my Black Raven of Majesty into Light, or maybe I just lost interest in the game after I think it fumbled the ball. I still think two-thirds of the game was enjoyable, and the first half until the Boss was captivating.
The music they use is striking and classical, with good pacing that only adds to White Shadows‘ lovely scenery and atmosphere. Overall, I just think it lacks in delivering the story, but that’s me. Other games like Little Nightmares held my attention much easier for around the same length, but White Shadows lost it (and I kept hoping it would find it again).
That said, I won’t be playing it again. It’s nice for a one-time playthrough, but the game was not what it could have been. And I don’t believe $19.99 would be worth the purchase exactly either.