It’s sometimes easy to forget just how many ways we have of interacting with our smartphones and tablets. When it comes to gaming everything is touch and tilt, and that’s usually the end of the matter. Not so with Ulterior. This is a puzzler that revels in all the different things that your device can do, creating esoteric challenges out of them and leaving you to figure out just what it is you’re supposed to be doing.
The end result is equal parts frustrating and brilliant. Let’s put it this way – can you think of any other game that asks you to take a screenshot, open another app, and scan a QR code while you’re playing?
That’s exactly the sort of thing that Ulterior asks you to do on a regular basis. There’s no hand-holding here, and very few hints. Essentially you’re presented with a screen, a title, and a progress bar, and you have to figure out what on earth you’re supposed to be doing from there.
Each challenge is a single screen. Sometimes it’s blank, sometimes it’s full of numbers. Sometimes it’s just a tiny little dot in the centre of the screen, pulsating gently. Your main clue as to what to do comes from the one word title of each level. Some are pretty straightforward – password levels need you to find a four digit passcode. Others are deliberately obtuse, requiring some head-scratching before you even start to solve them.
There’s a single hint for each challenge, although they’re on a cooldown, so if you used one for the previous level, you’re going to have to wait a while if you get stuck again.
There are some really excellent ideas here, and then some others that don’t quite hit the mark. When you solve some of the tougher puzzles you can’t help but feel like you’ve passed an audition for Mensa. When you’re stuck on the less well-explained ones, you’ll mainly just want to throw your phone into a puddle.
And that’s the dichotomy at the heart of Ulterior. When it gets things right, it gets them very right. When it gets them wrong, or at least when you notice it’s got things wrong, it becomes a bit of a slog. That’s not to say that the missteps tarnish the rest of the experience – far from it in fact – it’s more of a warning that if you persevere with Ulterior’s grand scheme, there are going to be times when you want to throttle the designer.
Overall though this is an intriguing, unique experience. It’s presented in scratchy, retro fonts, it’s constantly making you think about new ways of poking, prodding, and interacting with your phone, and it’s not afraid to go off on spectacular flights of fancy.
Yes you’re going to get annoyed at it from time to time, and if you’re more used to the gentle puzzling proceedings of the likes of Candy Crush then the lack of almost any explanation of what you’re supposed to be doing here is going to leave you baffled. But if you’re looking for something decidedly different – a puzzler that doesn’t just have an edge, it’s pretty much constructed entirely of them – then you’re going to love stumbling around in Ulterior’s dark corners. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth getting stuck into for the sheer thrill of trying something new.