STAFF REVIEW of Ugly (Xbox One)


Tuesday, December 12, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Ugly Box art It’s no surprise to anyone if you’ve read my reviews, that I adore indies. Of course, I get hyped over the new and shiny AAA games that are shown to me all the time, but there will always be a soft spot for the cute and cozy world brought to me in the form of indie games, even if that game's name is Ugly. When I first heard the game’s name, I thought it was a weird title, and now that I’ve played the game, the title makes so much sense. Ugly is a platform puzzler adventure game that will test your skills and give you a mental workout. Developed by Team Ugly and published by Graffiti Games, the story is told with no words but somehow managed to deliver a brilliant and meaningful narrative.

You start the game in bed, a depressed alcoholic noble. You are ‘the ugly son’ of a nobleman or king, his ego on full display throughout the castle. Shortly after starting the game, you find a mirror that allows you to split yourself into two realities, creating two distinct versions of yourself. The story is told through collecting childhood drawings on walls. These are crudely drawn in crayon or chalk and unlocked by placing one version of yourself into each of the two silhouettes and unlocking the cut scenes. These show what happened to you over your lifetime, presenting why and how you became the man you are. I found the story to be extremely sad, but it’s told in such a beautiful manner. Without spoiling the main story, you get flashes of emotional abuse by a parental figure. Ugly is one of the most disturbing stories I’ve experienced in some ways but also didn’t pander or make it violent or gruesome just for shock value.


The base gameplay of Ugly is similar to any other 2D platformer; run, jump, and climb, but the mirror mechanic is something entirely new for me and is the real heart of the gameplay. You will create a mirror copy of the main character and control both at the same time. What one does, the other will do in reverse. This works on the horizontal plane as well as the vertical. If you move the main character left, the mirror character goes right, etc. Since the mirror image is a ‘ghost’ per se, it can also pass through solid objects. Broken ladders, boarded-up walls and closed-off cellars can all be navigated once you master the mirror mechanic. Once you move your ‘ghost’ character, you can simply hit a button and trade places with your other form. This is the mechanic you will use while moving through the levels to solve the puzzles and collect the keys needed to open doors and progress.

Each chapter is composed of multiple levels, ending with its boss. The boss fights rely on using whatever tricks you’ve picked up to beat them. None of them were too difficult and I was able to move through the game at a steady pace. While the boss battles weren’t difficult, they do rely on more precise movements and seem to be in contrast to the rest of the game which is played more loose and leisurely.

The level design in Ugly is anything but ugly. The gorgeous environments, character design and puzzles are both colourful and sombre at times, creating a story that is both joyful and sad. Another play on the duality of your two characters. The castle level is full of details, and I kept finding small new items that would remind me of my own stories.

The soundtrack for Ugly is exceptional as well. The music and sound design appear to have had a lot of thought put into them. Subtle changes at times can set an entirely new tone to sections of the game. Mostly dark orchestral pieces, composed by Jan Fité, tug at your heartstrings.


One gameplay feature that was both unexpected and sad was if you needed to restart a level, you simply drank from the flask in your pocket, passed out and restarted the level. Ugly has a full colourblind mode, button remapping and although there are no subtitles, the game doesn’t have dialogue and is told strictly through images. No audio cues were shown on screen though, so the potential to struggle in some of the boss flights may be present for gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Ugly is a dark fairy tale, and the story can be disturbing at times. You won’t be getting a happily ever after type of story here. Of note, the ESRB has rated Ugly as M for mature. It contains alcohol use, sexual content, partial nudity, and mild violence. Although the style looks cartoonish and childlike, this is not a game for young gamers. There is a reason that, when starting the game, it tells you that in order to fully enjoy the game you should take frequent breaks. It’s simply a lot to emotionally deal with at times. The small note of self-care towards the people playing the game means a lot and did not go unnoticed. Well done, Team Ugly.


Ugly’s story runs approximately five to seven hours. Unlocking all hidden memories and movies throughout the game will unlock an alternate ending as well. Speaking of the movies, these were particularly creepy in an already disturbing game. I won’t spoil any of their content, but there are achievements for unlocking each memory and movie as well, so it may be worth seeking them out.

Ugly is a beautiful game full of heart, good puzzles, and a dramatic story. Heartbreaking, and emotionally draining, it’s the story of all of us in some ways. How we process trauma and how we are often the product of what happens to us throughout our lives. It’s hard to believe that such a small team made this game. It’s only $19.99 USD as well, a bargain for what you are getting. I have played a lot of emotionally charged indies, and many dark fairy tales, but something about Ugly has changed me and I can’t wait to see what Team Ugly gives us next.

**Ugly was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**




Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10

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