This is a game to “Return.” to

There’s an adorable unsung hero in the messy aisles of free games that can be found in the Steam game marketplace. “Return.” published on Steam in August of 2018, is a platformer game that feels like it came out of a pleasant dream.

“Return.” is very short. There is only really one level of gameplay, though it is broken up by checkpoints so that if you die, you don’t have to restart from the very beginning. If you are well-versed in auto-scrolling platformers, you can easily finish the game in 10 minutes, but what the game lacks in length, it makes up for in a very strong sense of atmosphere.

When I first loaded into the game, my first thoughts were “aw, cute.” “Return.” leans heavily into a pastel aesthetic, with pinks and blues everywhere. The character you control is a pink and blue goat-like being with a halo and a black spot on its chest in the shape of a heart. Each checkpoint you come across is a little cat that meows when you approach. Its graphics remind me of watching a movie on the VCR, reinforced with the small sound of a tape being ejected each time you open or close the game.

A lulling piano piece serves as the game’s sole soundtrack. It was so relaxing that it made me, for the brief amount of time that it ran, forget about the stresses of school and the upcoming finals and just breathe. The piece is credited to Chris Zabriskie and, with some digging, I found that it is called “That Kid in Fourth Grade Who Really Liked the Denver Broncos,” which is not the title I expected, but it does elicit a feeling of nostalgia that makes me think back to grade school.

The gameplay is simple as well. The only controls are the arrow keys, to move the main character around, and z, to jump. Your goal as the player is to solve small puzzles before the screen moves past you, requiring you to be quick thinking while jumping to various platforms. As with most games that auto-scroll, you want to remain within the camera’s sights. Stray too far ahead of it and you will die. I’m not a typical player of the games of this genre, so it took me a little bit to get used to it.

Not to worry any gamers who like to be challenged. Just because the atmosphere is an easy-going pastel dream, doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have some difficulty. Everything can be going great, but then you land on some spikes and your cute little spirit explodes into dozens of bouncing balls floating around the screen. The deaths from objects in the game are jarring, but I found it hard to get frustrated when I got stuck and died at the same spot repeatedly just because of how serene the rest of the game is. Even if I hadn’t expected the death and was jump-scared by it, the atmosphere of the game quickly calmed the resulting anxiety. Deaths that result from falling off the screen or going too far ahead of the camera were much less worrisome, a simple fade-away to a screen that asks you to “press R to reset” and then you are at the last checkpoint.

In terms of story, well, there just isn’t much. Its description on Steam is really the only story we get, we are simply trying to guide a lost soul home. The vagueness of it can let your imagination run a little funky with it and I’m sure I could come up with quite a few theories on what the scenery means for the lost soul if I really put my mind into it.

“Return.” was made by developer Breadmeat. This seems to have been their first project that was put on Steam, and I’m excited to see what else they will make in the future. Looking through the developer’s Tumblr page, I noticed that they mentioned they made “Return.” as practice. If that means one day they’ll make a full-length game, I will be one of the first in line to try it. It was published by PsychoFlux Entertainment, another publisher that I haven’t had much experience with, but their Steam offerings span 24 games.

For the price of free, it is an experience well worth having, and if you enjoy it, consider throwing a dollar at the developer for the donationware edition, which is the same game, but you get the warm fuzzies of knowing you helped an independent developer. I’d recommend it particularly for people dealing with anxiety about the upcoming finals week, or who just need a short break from studying. It has low graphics requirements that it is likely to run well on anyone’s laptop, so long as it was made in the last decade and a half. I personally will be coming back to “Return.” whenever I need quick stress relief in between classes.