Who Are You?
While I’m not generally a fan of idle and clicker games, Alter Ego certainly caught my attention. Part idle game, part visual novel, and part personality test, it’s one of the most memorable games I’ve played in a long time. While the game can be slow and perhaps slightly pretentious, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a unique, story-driven mobile game.
Developed by Japanese Studio Caramel Column Inc., Alter Ego describes itself as a “Self-Discovery Clicker Game.” Taking place in a mental pocket dimension, players will spend most of their time clicking on speech bubbles, called Whispers, in an infinite hallway. While that sounds simple, there is still a degree of nuance to the clicking. Players get the most Ego by clicking the Whisper right before it disappears. There are also times when the Whispers will come at increasing speed, and getting them all can be pretty challenging.
Clicking Whispers gives players Ego, which has two purposes. The first is to “read” books, which produce Ego every second, even when the player is away. This is part of what I meant by the game coming across as pretentious. Players spend Ego to flip through pages, increasing the amount of Ego they get every second. These books include famous works of literature, including Frankenstein and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Alter Ego quotes them as players progress. However, I couldn’t escape the impression that Alter Ego was just putting a literary spin on an otherwise standard idle-game mechanic.
I wasn’t a massive fan of the gameplay overall. I’m sure some people might find it satisfying, but clicking it starts to feel like busywork after a while. This only gets worse near the end of the game. Fortunately, reaching one of Alter Ego’s three endings massively increases the amount of Ego players get from clicking. This lets players speed through some of the grind on subsequent playthroughs. Alter Ego also deserves credit for not shoving its cash shop in your face like some mobile games do. The game still has ads, and you can pay to speed things up. However, the ads are relatively unobtrusive, and you can finish Alter Ego in under a week without spending a cent.
Looking in the Mirror
Ego’s primary function is unlocking the game’s story segments, and that’s where Alter Ego is strongest. It’s also hard to discuss without dipping into spoilers, but I’ll do my best.
The plot of Alter Ego revolves largely around the player’s interactions with the characters of Ego Rex and Es. Ego Rex resembles a giant stone face and rules over the metaphysical realm where Alter Ego takes place. Meanwhile, Es is a young woman who serves as the player’s guide to self-discovery. She gives the player personality tests at various points in the game, recording the results and presenting players with Freudian psychoanalysis.
It’s up to the player how much stock they want to put in these results. However, I chose to play along and felt like Alter Ego’s analysis was pretty accurate most of the time. For whatever it’s worth, Alter Ego is the only mobile game I’ve ever seen with a list of citations. I obviously would not turn to a mobile game for real psychological evaluations, and no one reading this should either. However, if you want a game that makes you think, Alter Ego does a good job of holding up a mirror.
Id, Ego, Super-Ego
These personality tests aren’t the only times players interact with Es. She’s also looking for answers about who she is and what she wants, mirroring the player’s own search. There is also more than a bit of tension between Es and Ego Rex. This serves as the game’s primary conflict, with each warning you not to trust the other. And while Rex doesn’t have a particularly active role in the plot, the player’s conversations with Es make up the bulk of Alter Ego’s story. Players can use dialogue choices to influence her attitudes across the game’s three chapters. This gradually changes Es’ personality and worldview and determines which of the three endings players get. Unfortunately, there’s not much more that I can say without spoilers, and Alter Ego really benefits from players going in blind.
I will add that the game’s story is relatively short. You’d probably be able to finish in a few hours if the Ego requirements weren’t a factor. And while the hallway music and atmosphere are great, it can feel like the game is slowing things down artificially. Additionally, some of the endings are a bit heavy-handed. However, I think it still works once you figure out what Alter Ego is going for.
I can’t promise that Alter Ego will be everyone’s favorite game. Clicking-based gameplay isn’t the most exciting thing ever, and psychoanalysis might turn some people off. However, it offers a unique experience that not many games would even attempt, let alone succeed at.
Is It Hardcore?
While I can’t promise that Alter Ego is everyone’s cup of tea, Caramel Column’s unique story-driven clicker game definitely leaves a lasting impression.