The World Next Door is a charismatic puzzle game with fun characters, but it occasionally gets bogged down by clunky and imprecise gameplay.
The first game from Rose City Games, The World Next Door, is wholesome and full of whimsy from the start. You take on the role of Jun, a young woman from Earth. In an exciting turn of events, she wins a lottery that allows her to travel to Emrys, a magical neighboring universe, through a portal that is only open one day per every twenty years. Jun quickly befriends a gaggle of students on Emrys, but they lose track of time, and the portal closes before Jun can pass back through it. This is the start of a race against time to find a way to reopen the portal and get Jun home, as humans can’t survive on Emrys for long.
The group searches for solutions in underground shrines nearby — cue the dungeon crawling. You run into monsters called grievances in the shrines and you and your crew battle them with magic. Battles put Jun on a gridded map full of colorful symbols that can be cast as spells when three or more tiles of the same symbol are adjacent to each other. While you run around matching symbols, grievances attack you with their own abilities, forcing you to dodge and dash out of their way.
This is where things get sticky. Match three gameplay is fun, straightforward, and accessible in most cases — perfect for the mood of The World Next Door. Unfortunately, the controls are just faulty enough to noticeably hinder your experience. It’s worth noting that I played on my PC using hotkeys instead of a joystick controller — I would highly recommend using the latter. It’s also worth noting that the tutorials assume the use of a controller with a D-pad, so the issues I encountered may be unique to my setup. Sometimes, I would be standing on a group of identical adjacent tiles, ready to cast a spell, but nothing happened when I hit the cast key. To remedy this, I had to move Jun off the tiles and back onto them for the spell to work. This may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it resulted in the occasional loss, causing you to start the battle all over.
Thankfully, when this became too irritating, I was able to turn on The World Next Door’s assist mode. This made a noticeable difference, as the mode makes Jun literally invincible in battle, incapable of taking any damage. However, it won’t be necessary for most players, as the difficulty of the levels remains relatively low throughout the game, with plenty of checkpoints to replenish Jun’s health.
Where The World Next Door really shines is in its story. The game is packed full of (literally) colorful characters who all have distinct personalities and complex relationships with each other. One of the best parts of the game is choosing who to text in the morning before the crew meets in person — the surly troublemaker? The selfless bookworm? The school’s biggest self-proclaimed gossip? Each exchange between characters is thoroughly entertaining, and you learn more about each of them through every conversation.
Equally compelling are the sidequests in The World Next Door. Though they mostly take the form of simple fetch quests, the minor characters involved make the footwork more than worthwhile. These sidequests flesh out the social environment of Emrys and add some texture to the world. There’s one in particular involving unsigned love letters that will stick with me well after my memory of the major plot points has faded. Most of these sidequests are decidedly and sincerely wholesome, not concerned with being edgy or needlessly cynical.
Ultimately, The World Next Door is a bright and endearing addition to anyone’s library. Fans of match three games and visual novels will find plenty to love about this portal into Emrys.
The World Next Door is available now for PC and Mac on Steam.