We all have a favourite illustrated book from our childhood. One that stands out as being funny or featuring a beloved character, and most will remember the first book that gave them their first taste of heartache, too. Children’s books often tackle hard-hitting themes in an approachable way for young minds, with the soft art styles and muted colour palettes lulling us into a false sense of security.

The same can be said of How to Say Goodbye, a narrative puzzle game inspired by children’s picture books, which I recently played at EGX 2022. It features beautiful 2D graphics and an emotional journey that deals with grief and death. The story centers on a recently deceased character — in adorable ghost form — who finds themselves in a strange new world.

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You’ll have to help this poor little ghost navigate their way through, but you don’t actually control the character. Instead, you control the floor tiles, and you have to manipulate the scenery by sliding rows of tiles on the grid to move characters and objects around, and in doing so, solve each puzzle level.

The mechanics are simple, yet the puzzles can feel surprisingly complex — in a good way. After all, who doesn’t love a challenge? New ways of interacting with the environment appear as you progress through the game, giving you more pause for thought as you try to navigate your ghostly traveller to each door destination.

While playing the EGX demo, it was surprising how often I would find myself stumped because I would forget that I could move both the character and the items. A new mechanic would come along and make me overthink things for a second. On most levels, you have to get the ghost to a key, which they then use on the door to leave the level. When the button mechanic was introduced, I had to position the ghost on top to open up a path, but it would take me a little while to realise I needed to move the key through the gap, not the ghost.

Throw in additional characters, more mechanics, and obstacles, and the game gradually has you having to consider multiple facets of the puzzle at once. It’s a clever little game that feels relaxing rather than frustrating. The easily enjoyable gameplay combined with the stylish art and mellow soundtrack that blends between lovely and haunting would be enough for me to be happy, but the added benefit of a thoughtful plot takes it even further. The game explores themes of grief and kindness through several ghostly characters, offering insight into their past lives and relationships as they face possibly-nefarious spirits, a mysterious wizard, and, ultimately, acceptance of their fate.

How to Say Goodbye aims to launch by the end of 2022 for PC, iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch. You can currently add it to your wishlist on Steam.

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