Dodgeball Is The Key To Repairing Fractured Relationships In Desta: The Memories Between

We played the new emotional dodgeball game from the creators of Monument Valley.

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Developer Ustwo games burst out of the mobile gate in 2014 with Monument Valley, a gorgeous, simple puzzle game about moving through environments likely inspired by the art of M.C. Escher. The studio iterated and expanded on the core Monument Valley idea in the game's 2017 sequel, but for its new game, Desta: The Memories Between, Ustwo is going in a much different, less ambiguous direction. Only the isometric perspective of Monument Valley remains.

During GameSpot's Swipe mobile showcase, the game's developers explained how Desta: The Memories Between works and the inspirations behind it. I also had the chance to spend an extended period of time with the game and play its opening hours.

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Now Playing: Desta: The Memories Between - Developer Overview Trailer

In Desta: The Memories Between, you play as the titular Desta who decides to visit home after many years and repair fractured relationships with childhood friends and family, but most importantly, their mother. With that story setup in place, Desta returns to their childhood room and falls into a dream, which is where the actual gameplay takes place.

Desta has fond memories of their deceased father tossing a ball around while talking through the various problems of life, and that idea manifests in Desta's dreams as a grid-based strategy game where you must throw a ball at various enemies. As is the case with most dreams, when you describe the premise it sounds silly and maybe even absurd, but in the context of the game where you are an active participant, it makes sense and feels right.

Desta has a certain number of actions per turn where they can move or throw a ball. You throw the ball by pulling back on Desta (like an Angry Birds slingshot) and propel the ball forward. The ball will bounce against walls and corners allowing you to throw it at interesting angles around corners or--a favorite tactic of mine--make the ball come right back to you after hitting its target.

Desta: The Memories Between is as much about teamwork as it is strategy.
Desta: The Memories Between is as much about teamwork as it is strategy.

The tutorial starts by showing you how to hit barriers, but quickly adds in human opponents with the ability to move and throw the ball themselves. You also gain access to a shadow version of Desta you control independently who can toss you the ball and visa versa. As you play, you unlock new abilities, like one that lets you use more action points to throw harder as well as the ability to move more spaces per turn.

Within these dream dodgeball games, Desta works through how they can repair their real world relationships--lessons they take with them and use once they wake up. During my playtime, I encountered Desta's childhood friend, Fran, who once lived across the street from them. Fran is upset that Desta never reaches out or responds to texts anymore and over the course of a few levels, Desta eventually recognizes that Fran just wants to communicate with them and apologizes for their actions. It doesn't matter how long it has been since they've spoken. She just doesn't want to lose Desta from her life. It's a sweet and cathartic conversation, punctuated by something that feels like a simplified chess game where the pieces can throw balls. After Desta and Fran overcome their relationship squabbles, Fran joins Desta's team and becomes another player on the board where she has her own set of skills and abilities.

The overall premise of playing a strategy-infused version of dodgeball to work through relationship issues is unexpectedly rewarding. The actual gameplay takes inspiration from familiar strategy games like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, but the goal--be a good person for the important people in your life--and the ability to throw a ball for battle, makes it all feel new and interesting. After repairing Desta's relationship with Fran, I only barely began the story. It seems I also only scratched the surface of this game. Desta's conflict and resolution with Fran is only the beginning of the story, and there seems to be various mechanical abilities you unlock and can swap between.

As revealed during the GameSpot Swipe mobile showcase, Desta: The Memories Between releases September 27 for mobile devices by way of Netflix and will then make its way to platforms like Steam and Switch in the future.

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