The Wheels On The Buste Go Round and Round

Jun 2, 2023



Are you warn and real, or a cold work of art?  Are you someone who has dreams come to your doorstep to lie there and die there?  Nat King Cole’s questions to Mona Lisa feels like the basis for Decarnation.  Developer Atelier QDB describes the title as a survival game, but it would be best categorized as a soul searching, self dissecting game.  A game that careens into caverns of the mind that are often left uncharted due to their unsettling nature.  


Developer: Atelier QDB

Publisher: Shiro Games, East2West Games

Available On: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows PC

Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

This Game may contain content not appropriate for all ages, or may not be appropriate for viewing at work: Some Nudity or Sexual Content, General Mature Content

Gloria is a girl with a history, which makes Decarnation her story.  Though it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Gloria has a past, or at least one worth reliving.  Her small circle of acquaintances, Mom and partner Joy for instance, express their opinions on Gloria’s life skills during conversations with the “young” dancer.  Young being the operative word since each individual she encounters makes a point of mentioning her age, 29, as old and her oeuvre up to this point.  From their dialogue you can tell they either don’t see Gloria’s potential or don’t feel the dancer is living up to it by working at the Black Swan.  This includes a new figure in her life, one who offers Gloria a chance to create a true masterpiece.  Unfortunately Gloria didn’t realize the title of this new work was a caged birds song.


The phrase the medium is the message is usually associated with mainstream media. But isn’t it true of all forms of artistic expression.  From paint to clay and bronze, the material the artist works with is often just as significant as what they are searching to create.  This also holds true for Decarnation on many levels; descending at times to disturbing depths.  

First, there is the game itself.  By choosing to make a bulk of Decarnation a story based type of game, the developer is asking the player to pay attention to Gloria.  Both her interactions and identity.  

Because Decarnation plunges gamers into a series of surreal circumstances that will have them, and Gloria, questioning – well everything.  Even before the title screen flashes Gloria has already made one decision that doesn’t entirely sit well with her.  Society has the impression that being chosen to act as an artist’s model, their muse is a big honor.  Reality cures that delirium when Gloriia discovers she has to pay her own entry to the exhibit.  Players will soon realize that encountering harsh truths and uncomfortable experiences is the primary objective for Gloria and the game Decarnation.  As Gloria walks through the gallery paying attention to the artwork gives the player a perspective on the developer’s inspirations. And a peek at the twisted, spiraling psychosis levels gamers play through; meant to break Gloria. Perhaps to begin again?

The pixel art design of this horror puzzler really begins once Gloria’s world shifts from a dream come true into a dark nightmare.  In a flash, Gloria’s whole existence changes, leading to some existential exploration of the individual.  While these psychedelic, mind blowing sequences focus on Gloria and her faults or flaws they also will no doubt resonate with some players also.  From both the context of the conversations and 8 bit graphics Decarnation displays the emptiness and unfulfilled existence which Gloria has allowed her life to sink into.

The controls, and major gameplay mechanics of Decarnation are very basic, which may initially turn off some gamers.  Players maneuver Gloria around in a top down, side scroller world.  If any interaction/action is necessary from the player, the screen indicates the appropriate button to press. The initial areas are simply city settings such as Gloria’s apartment or the gallery where her statue is displayed.   So early on Decarnation will feel like a point-click game.  Later, after her abduction, the locations you explore are a mix of hallucinogenic trip meets neurotic nightmare, all of which have some psychological significance to Gloria’s journey.  These areas, with some unsightly or upsetting scenery create a tension that makes simple gaming tasks a little more nerve wracking. You can never be sure what is real and what will happen next.

During her captivity Gloria, and Decarnation, begin to discover (and reveal) what is at their core.  And not all of it is as pretty as Gloria would have liked to imagine.  In one of her first attempts to escape Gloria encounters scenes of lecherous and lewd crowds fawning over her statue.  As Gloria moves through the crowd to the exit, a mental manifestation (intrusion) that looks like a purple thought bubble with teeth blocks her path.  There may not appear to be a lot of gaming difficulty here. But difficulty – with gameplay – doesn’t seem like what the developer was looking for when designing Decarnation.  A game seemingly lacking in complexity to some players, masks a suspenseful drama. A story about choosing how you live and how you choose to let the world see you.   

Decarnation screenshot

Calling Decarnation a slow game would be similar to complaining while a chef completes the main course.  This same patience benefits Decarnation. The mingling of the game’s narrative with the visual elements creates something captivating. This enticing, voyeuristic sensation simply won’t allow you to end the game before you experience how things end for Gloria. 

Whether Gloria will ever be free is uncertain.  At times it seems Decarnation is a cycle that revolves around returning her to the same holding cell after an escape attempt becomes just another phantasmic dream episode.  However after each one Gloria gains a new outlook on her life.  Is Gloria a prisoner now, or was she always?  Can this situation be the necessary transformation which finally sets her free?   

If so, then not only is Decarnation something like a death and reincarnation, it also may reveal to Gloria what dreams may come.   

Or as the game’s soundtrack suggests – Tout depend de toi

Score: 8.3