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Thralled is a beautiful and heartbreaking game

When Thralled first made an appearance last year, it impressed with its desire to highlight a great evil in the world; slavery.

This onetime student project, subsequently picked up by Ouya, is now edging closer to release, pencilled in for later this year. I played Thralled at the IndieCade collective exhibition space at E3, and fell in love once again, not merely with its noble principles, but with the game itself.

For sure, this is not a complicated game. It's a sideways scrolling platform-puzzler. I played as a runaway slave, a mother carrying her baby. Most of the problems I encountered demanded I place the baby down, solve the puzzle (move a cart, or cut a rope-bridge) and return for the baby.

All the while a dread force is heading towards my character, a cloud of despair. I must keep my baby safe and comforted in order to push away the fog of defeat, and the apparition of my own death that it contains.

This is a game that frames the horrible crime of slavery, which exists in the world today in greater numbers than ever before, in terms we can all understand. It's about the mother's love for her child, not merely her desire to escape captors. It's about the desperation of captivity and how it deprives its victims of hope.

The game is beautiful — painterly and heartbreaking in its details. It may not win any awards for gameplay design, and on Ouya it is unlikely to find a huge audience. But I hope it captivates other people, as it captivated me. Thralled is a lovely game, with a message that none of us should ignore.

The next level of puzzles.

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