Duet: An Exploration of Grief

Duet was not what I was expecting. The name itself makes me think of two musicians working together to make beautiful music. Instead, I was presented with a game that involved spinning around in a circle to avoiding obstacles.

Let’s go through the usual steps to explain this, shall we?


==The Pitch==

Duet is a mobile game that was recently ported to Steam on March 7th. The game itself is a lesson in minimalism with simple controls, minimal backgrounds, and a massive challenge.

In Duet, you control two orbs that can only move within a set line (in this case, a circle). Your goal is to traverse the maze of objects moving toward you and get to the end of each stage.

Interesting note: the stages are all named after a stage of the grieving process, adding a certain morbidity to the title.



Writer’s Note: This review is about the PC version of the game on Steam. Mobile versions may have different play experiences.

As I previously mentioned, the game is rather minimal. You use your directional pad or WASD to move your orbs to the left or the right in order to dodge the objects that move toward you. When one orb moves, the other will always follow at the opposite side of the circle.

Hitting anything leads to “death,” which brings you back to the beginning. You also leave behind a bit of paint based on the color of the orb (an optional setting you can turn off) to show where you failed.

I left quite the mess here, apparently.
Each stage has multiple levels, and the game gets steadily harder as you progress.

==The Good==

For a minimalist game, it has a surprisingly nice soundtrack. It carries a nice rhythm, and is something I wouldn’t mind listening to every so often. Voices were also added in between each part of the stage, sometimes with instructions, sometimes advice, and sometimes some rather nihilistic thoughts. Still, a nice touch!

The settings the game offers also can help. Some people griped of motion sickness, but you can turn off the pulsating backgrounds in the setting menu (protip: I’d strongly suggest it). There are other artistic-based options in the settings as well that are minor, but may make the difference for some players.

Doesn’t look as busy now, does it?
The game offers multiple modes that you can unlock, such as daily challenges and an Encore mode. Some of these are available immediately, while others are given to you by completing stages.

==The Bad==

Where do I begin here?

I am a bit biased here, but the gameplay really isn’t that great, especially if you have any issues with your eyesight. In my case, I have a condition known as Strabismus; my eyes do not focus on things the way they should, and I often get a bit of double vision, especially when I’m tracking moving objects. For most games, I can handle this condition, but with the default settings, I just couldn’t do it for more than a few minutes without having a double vision issue.

So. Much. Blur.
When you deactivate the backgrounds, you literally have white blocks moving toward your white circle with a red and a blue orb, and all of these objects have motion blur (making it difficult to judge if you’ll hit a spinning object or not). The minimalism can be a bit much, and with some of the spoken lines, it seems a little too nihilistic for my taste.

On that note: as someone who has dealt with grief caused by loss on multiple occasions (parent, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more before high school), and witnessing a family member going through it (a recent death in the family that my mother is taking pretty hard), I found it an odd choice to name the stages of the game after the stages of grief and loss. This was doubly true that the stages that frustrated me the most are the stages of grief that tend to be the ones rife with suicides. Not exactly an image you may want for a game.

Sometimes these words are helpful. In some levels, it even asks “Why even bother?” Bit too morbid for me.
The final nail in the coffin, for me, is the game doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. At first, the game felt solely like a twitch game, relying on reflexes to get through the stages, but it had a few odd hints early on, like “Keep holding left,” which gets you through the stage safely. Another was along the lines of “There is always a pattern, even in chaos,” and it’s true.

In fact, it is so true that when you play the first of the Encore levels, the narrator asks “Do you remember how we did this last time?” You end up repeating the same timing and methods you did in the first level of the story mode, even though there are more blocks moving around trying to kill you. Eventually, the game hits “Item Abuse” levels of timing, which means you keep inching forward and croaking in order to memorize the pattern.


It’s a rather depressing way to play a game that uses names for levels inspired by the stages of grief: constantly fighting forward only to be foiled, sent back to the beginning, and having to go through it all again and hope you don’t screw it up.

==The Verdict==

Duet feels like a simple, straightforward game that is trying to be edgy with minimalist artwork and a depressing, nihilistic topic to inspire it. Personally, I’m giving Duet a rating of 1.5 buns, and I feel that is being generous for this depressing game with minimalist art.

Rating 1.5 Stars
STALE buns, at that

If you enjoy twitch games that rely on rote memorization (like the item abuse levels in Mario Maker), then pick this up. Otherwise, give it a pass and pick up something a bit more up your alley.

My choice: not loading this game again.
Duet was created by Kumobius and is available on Steam as well as for iOS and Android Devices.


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