‘Blackbar’ Review: A _____ Game

I’m gonna be honest, here. Blackbar (out now, 2.99) is not the sort of game I usually find myself playing. Take a look at my iPad or iPhone and you’ll see folders upon folders of racers, shooters, runners, jumpers, defenders, flingers, and the occasional word game or two. Blackbar is sort of a word game, I suppose, but it’s more like you’re playing a short story: It’s all white pages and black text. Though I like to curl up with a good book as much as the next dude, actually playing one is not my usual cup of tea. However, against my own expectations, I found myself completely and utterly hooked to the tale of two girls’ descent into a world of censorship, death, and hope.

blackbar-260x389When you first boot up the game you’ll find yourself immediately staring at a short letter from someone named “Kenty”. She’s just moved to the big city to begin a new job, but it seems her letters have to go through the Orwellian “Department of Communication” before being sent. At the bottom of this text, one of the words has been redacted. With no prompting or instructions, you click the black bar and fill in the missing word: “censored”. And so begins your journey.

As Vi Channi, the recipient of the letters, you are tasked with figuring out what the blacked out words and phrases are in order to put them back together. Usually this amounts to reading a letter a few times to tease out contextual clues, but other times the puzzles require cleverer thinking. And man, some of them are real stumpers. More than a few times I was forced to put my phone away and come back to it later with fresh eyes, and even then had to ask my girlfriend for help. Other times, I’m not afraid to admit, I had to take to Google and look up a thesaurus and even, on one occasion, the works of Shakespeare. But fear not, as the letters are rarely difficult to the point of frustration. And the reward — the story itself — is pretty sublime.

See, it turns out your friend is slowly becoming disillusioned with her new line of work and soon wants out. To make matters worse, her mother is very sick and she’s not allowed to come home to visit her. And to complicate things even further, a shadowy figure who signs his letters with a strange cross symbol has started sending you weirdly ominous riddles. The story isn’t revolutionary on its own, but the fact that you have to piece together the messages yourself makes everything feel more personal somehow. It’s a pretty extraordinary feat, all in all.

Developers Neven Mrgan and James Moore have done a pretty remarkable thing. They’ve taken a series of clever word puzzles and turned them into a thrilling, poignant, and rather timely tale of surveillance taken to extremes. They’ve made a game that’s beautiful in it’s simplicity and originality. And they’ve made a believer out of someone who might have otherwise written off the genre entirely.


Part puzzle game, part short story, Blackbar is a wonderful way to pass an afternoon or two. It’s a bit on the short side and there are no other game modes or leaderboards or anything, but adding extra fluff like that would be taking away from the experience, honestly. If you have three bucks lying around, you need this game.