This is a title that I decided to come back to after finishing it earlier this year. The story and simple gameplay stuck with me after a long while, and with 2020 being what it is, I figured I could use a nice dose of beautiful visuals and a “power of friendship” narrative.
World Next Door is a match 3+ puzzle game that doesn't really fit into the standard conventions of the Bejeweled-pioneered genre. Wrapped up in an endearing narrative, the game as a whole is a shorter experience, but its bite-sized scope works well to not overstay its welcome. Combined with a captivating art style and character designs that make me just want to go "aaaaahhhhhHHHHh", World Next Door is pocket-sized puzzle adventure I recommend to anyone.
You play as Jun, the winner of The Festival's lottery which allows her a one day visit to the inter-dimensional realm of Emry. After a fun day of exploring the world she had only ever dreamed of, and meeting her long distance friends for the first time, she gets trapped! Fearing being stuck there forever, Jun and the gang work together to try and get her home.
During their escapades, the motley gang find themselves in various Shrines of magic and mystery. That is where the puzzle mechanics come into play! As any match 3+ puzzle game will entail, you are presented with a (not necessarily square or symmetrical) grid of symbols. In the case of World Next Door, your puzzle grid is used as a mechanism of magical combat, so matching 3 or more different symbols results in different magical attacks or effects. Green symbols will replenish health, red will materialize heat-seeking fireballs to do damage from a distance, things like that! Comboing a higher number of symbols together results in a more powerful spell, i.e. more healing, more fireball, etc. There is a small, yet still varied, array of symbols to choose from that helps your puzzle battles to keep from getting stagnant. My favorite part is that there are no positional or distance-based restrictions on your swapping, so you are free to change things around at your convenience.
Overall, the simple matching mechanic allows for quite an interesting time, as all of this is happening in real time combat. You control Jun running around on the grid as she selects symbols to swap and activate, as well as dodge attacks and debuffs. If you think the puzzle action might not be up your alley, or you strictly just want to enjoy the narrative stress-free, I’m happy to let you know there is an option you can turn on in the settings that allows for Jun to take no damage during combat. I would say that the overall experience is a good balance between narrative and exploration vs. puzzle combat, so if you want a truly carefree time, go for it!
That being said, I adored my time in World Next Door. My play time ended at about ~5 hours, while taking my time, and even failing a battle or two because I wasn't careful. I also tried to do all of the minor side content, which wasn’t anything too extensive, just little tidbits of extra narrative that help you to dive deeper into the world of Emry. The story overall has such a genial sense of comradery and satisfaction; it’s something warm and cozy to make you feel warm and cozy. With its small scope, World Next Door doesn’t spread itself too thin whatsoever, it knows what its goal is and sticks to it. You have a beautifully crafted world and vibrant array of characters, combined with a simple yet effective game mechanic, telling a whimsical tale of friendship and magic. Playing through this title provided me with such a restful window of coziness and wonder, with a small sprinkling of adventure and mischief, even before I really needed it (pandemic, hello).
Yes that all sounds very cheesy, but I think all of us can use a bit of cheese every now and then. If you're looking for a laid-back, well-rounded, entertaining story puzzle game, World Next Door is as Gouda pick as any.