Four screens into The Floor is Jelly, a frog is teaching me how to jump. The frog jumps once, lands, and jumps again, timed so that each ripple of the not-quite-solid, not-quite-liquid earth below him propels him higher. The frog doesn’t tell; it shows. And this is at the heart of The Floor is Jelly, a gleeful and sprawling yet entirely direct vision from Ian Snyder. Snyder doesn’t tell; he shows. He shows us a world that silently asks: What if?
What if the floor were made of jelly?
At first the result is maddening: like watching a child maneuver around a bounce house, my protagonist cannot find his—sea? ground? jelly?—legs. For each jump in The Floor is Jelly, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every time I move skyward, the ground formerly beneath my tiny feet undulates in all directions before snapping back into a flat surface. I jump impotently, slide down walls, fall to my death, or collide with fluffy jelly spikes, which render the protagonist into a gentle puff of black smoke before he resets.
Once I internalize how to jump, I effortlessly move over, under, or between bouncing spikes. The protagonist stays the same, but the world around shifts and ripples into other jellified forms. Where leaves fluttered in the background and orange trees had already blossomed into lush rounds, now a bright orange dawn signifies that it is morning. Where a gently-looping guitar lick signaled hopefulness, now a sitar chimes out of sync with twinkling stars.
Later still, music vanishes and the sky turns to the darkness of space. At another time, the background sky washes into an orange and green melon, a low droning synth playing courtesy of Fez maestro Disasterpeace. And with each stage, or series of stages, a new question arises: What if?
What if jelly changed depending on its surroundings?
Because there’s no real rhyme or reason between each theme of the shifting stages of the game. Proteus had its seasonal changes, and even Minecraft had its day and night. The Floor is Jelly is content to draw inspiration from both: dawn alters the state of the world, as does winter. Space sees gravity lessened, while the ocean sees it reversed. While the aesthetics of each scene blend together into a mélange of rounded corners and soothing colors, there’s no underlying logic tying each theme together. Jelly is as jelly does; whether it needs to appear in a series of cohesive scenes is in the eye of the beholder.
Some alterations are mere additions: dawn adds floating flowers that act as bouncing platforms. Rain creates its own ripples, inviting mysterious monoliths and inexplicable cat-faced flowers. But one sees the entire logic of the world rewritten, and it is here that The Floor is Jelly finds itself on its most confident footing.
In winter, every surface is one of two things: solid, or not. Dotted lines demarcate those platforms that aren’t, but they instantly spring into existence when the protagonist touches them. That is to say, jump from one piece of existence, to a piece of non-existence, and whichever is relied upon most—either through standing, wall-sliding, or bouncing—blooms into being. Words fail to capture how magical The Floor is Jelly’s winter is, as pieces of platforms overlap, their dotted-lines crossing each other as mazes, becoming obstacles on the way to the exit.
Winter is such a pure, complete, and thoroughly executed idea—reaching some of the same space-time continuum-melting heights of Braid or Fez—that it almost hurts the game, drawing its earlier stages into an unflattering comparison. It’s hard to return to the grey, nonsensical cave-like area that serves only as a downbeat hub-world between the more colorful, interesting areas. The non-logic of the game’s final stage, beset by playful, purposeful glitches that sometimes alter the tautness of the jelly, or other times create uncontrollable phase shifts, feels plagued by a reliance on what feels like sheer luck. Winter, on the other hand, was an exercise in pure formal clarity.
But even these endgame rug-pulls, ultimately, work. As the veneer of the game decays, the game shines brightest of all; in a lot of ways, The Floor is Jelly’s rules are made to be broken.
The glitch stage is the keystone for the rest of the game. Up until this point, the jelly was, though soft and malleable, a reliable agent. In the final moments of the game, the rules change, and it’s hard not to reconsider all that came before it, such as a seemingly straightforward wall-jumping section. Or how the entrances to each stage always remain—how there is eternally a chance to go back even to the very beginning of the game, to explore further.
What is revealed there and throughout is a vast amount of secret areas, accessible via previously imperceptible cracks in the world. Though the jelly can be occasionally sloppy—I became trapped without recourse beneath a jelly surface on more than one occasion—Snyder’s carefully created levels never are, and nothing within them is an accident.
A small, protagonist-sized space between two spikes. A long, daunting leap into an expanse of nothingness. An errant surface-like ripple on the edge of the screen, appearing almost as if a hallucination. All things not hidden, but entirely missable to someone previously obsessed only with reaching the exit. Now, they all ask: