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Selfloss is a relaxed, fish-fancying jaunt through exhaustion, desolation, and melancholy

Dare u seek the Loss fish?

A big woman points at an island in Selfloss
Image credit: Goodwin Games

When the ageing, silent character you play in puzzle adventure Selfloss performs a roll, it is a tumble of such poignant melancholy I spent the first five minutes of my time with its Steam demo just keeling about in the starting area. It’s a ponderous, pained roll, creaky and ancient. If it has i-frames, the ‘i’ stands for “I would like to not do that again for at least five minutes, please.” Each time you roll, or sprint, your character wipes beads of sweat from his brow, and you can tell the exertion is genuinely taxing. My man is exhausted. Also, surrounded by fish, both symbolic and literal.

After chatting to a long man, reminiscent of a stretched, ghostly goose, I reach the crest of a bright hill, and meet a very large woman with fish earrings, who points toward a stony, somewhat desolate island atop which sits a ruined fort. I climb down the cliff face, hop in a wooden boat, and off I go.

There’s a web-like purple mucus plant blocking my way to the island. To get rid of it, I have to shine my light staff at some globules. At the ruins, I meet my first hostile creatures: lumbering meatball folk, who you deal with using the staff’s light beam. They go down easy, but there’s still something chunkily tasty about the haptic buildup (I’m using a Dualsense) and sound swell, culminating in a popped-spot crescendo.

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I do reckon that if you’re not using a controller, you’ll miss out on a lot of what’s great in Selfloss’s moment-to-moment. Just moving around is imbued with weight and presence and all those other words that mean “pad shake make game feel real.” There’s a touch of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons about it, both in the genre sense and how much is communicated through the controls. The staff can be a little tricky to line up with the fleshy nobules you need to burst to navigate the place, but the simple act of aiming it using the analogue stick feels very natural, and you can even plonk the staff down to shine at yourself, washing off any poison goop you might have got over you during traversal.

I shine my staff at a totem, unlock a bridge, cross it, and ungunk a whale so it may return to the sky. Next meet a big man in a hut, and learn I’m in a place called Leeway - a sort of purgatory for those not yet ready to die. The big lady I met earlier is named Marena, and she runs things here. Sometimes, she imprisons people for years to do her bidding until they’re ready to, quote, take on the form of a fish to ascend. Ah, so the big whale I freed was a trapped soul? So many mysteries, most of them fish related.

A big man in a hut in Selfloss
Image credit: Goodwin Games

I exit the hut through the back, which sends me tumbling through space. After a cryptic message about orcas, I find myself in a garden. Inside another hut, I find a note that explains what “Selfloss” means - its a ritual meant to “heal the wounds of someone who has lost a loved one”. To perform it, I’ll need an item of personal value and “the essence of the Loss fish.” I’m actually really into all this, despite the fact I can’t stop laughing at the idea of a.) a fish trying to emote the concept of bereavement and b.) the mental image of several fish arranged on a beach like ‘Loss’.

I grab a backpack, a hat, and a sickle, hope in another boat, and it’s off to more adventure. I hope there’s fish and bet there will be, but I’m also very into Selfloss’s quite singular melancholic tone, and how it contrasts with what’s a fairly easy-going experience so far. Something you could play when you’re physically exhausted, and perhaps want to get spirituality exhausted too. Still, there’s undoubtedly some loveliness nestled underneath all the meatball demons and gunk. It’s got its fishhooks in me for sure.

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