The Repairing Mantis Review – Bridge of Dreams
Developed and published by Erupting Avocado
Available on PC
(Content Warning: Themes of depression, suicide, death, self-harm, and emotional manipulation)
Awaiting my eyes and inbox sat the surreal nightmare that was The Repairing Mantis. I went in only seeing a GIF of a glossy-eyed ivory flying squirrel being bullied by the arms of an insectoid, coupled with shots of desaturated beach-scapes in a dreamy PSX-style. I didn’t expect a tender and close-to-home narrative of depression and achieving your dreams or the lost dreams of another. Awakened on a sullen, lonely coast you outstretch your arms to see the lengthy green spindly arms of you, a praying mantis. It may seem like your first duty is to scamper around listening to the clickity-clacks of your fresh bug feet, but the thick atmosphere fills you with a purpose. A purpose to build a grotesque bridge of carrion to the sky.
Scurrying along the beach, you lift your buzzing wings along the craggy low-poly rocks, following the river where you’re greeted by an absolutely adorable creature that contrasts against the dreary atmosphere. Peering into their inner thoughts of unconfidence and doubt, you become fast friends as you’re determined to assist them in their only dream. The dream keeping them going on this plane. You’re a praying mantis with a mission after all. Your new rodent acquaintance selflessly offers up themselves to assist you without question. It’s what friends do, right? The sacrifice must be worth it. Perhaps it will help them achieve their dream? The sky shudders and quakes as your new friend trembles at the question of their decision. Was it worth it?
You immediately begin picking up on the symbolism and meaning behind your first interaction. The sore sacrifices you feel you must make when your dreams begin to fade. The moroseness that eats you from the inside out as you realize you’ve given your blood, sweat, and mental energy to a seemingly lost cause. But hope is not lost. Perhaps in another form, you still may fly. In this alternate haze of cosmic despair, you find your friend in tears, crying out at the dark sky. It’s an offering. They wish to sacrifice more for your relationship. All so you can repair the bridge once again. With a desperate attempt to achieve their goal of soaring amongst the clouds, the squirrel finds itself in a violent situation, as it earnestly begs for help. You must make your first decision. Cut them down in an attempt to rescue, or selfishly tear the flesh to repair anew.
Splatting to the ground, and undulating with pulses of life, the squirrel notes how even then, it’s just a set-back. Technically, they were suspended mid-air. They flew, right? Even through evisceration and torture, they still have a chance to fly. And they will again. In a painful last effort, the squirrel offers up the last part of themselves. Watching this creature give up everything they have all to appease you pierces your heart as you have no choice but to play it out. You’re mentally screeching “But you’ve had wings all along! I promise you can fly! Don’t think harm makes it all worth it!” It touches on familiar feelings of the guilt of not being enough but continuing to give. Alas, the bridge must be crossed again to be repaired. Taking the last piece of weeping flesh to your purpose, the cold mist of clouds reveals a gleaming constellation seemingly judging you for what you’ve done. You’ve come this far, you monster of a mantis. Reach for the stars, and break the sky apart. Split open the cosmic womb to an alternate land, and continue your purpose.
From here the experience is straightforward. Seek out the souls with falling dreams as you travel between corporeal nightmares, and surely try not to tear off any more body parts. As you once again find yourself back on the still shores, you settle into your newfound fleshy path of helping and hindering. While the map is simple and does require some back-and-forth scurrying, the biting narrative of even clone-like squirrels hits you with familiarization and empathy. Lugubrious beast-friends await your “encouragement”. Moths purr above a small thicket of undulating trees, and on the craggy cliff edge hovers a body of glum decay with a bushy tail. It seems they possess the dream plaguing and gnawing at all residents of this melancholy hamlet; Flight.
It’s a bit heart-breaking to peer directly into their inner thoughts, like an emotional pervert, but it fuels empathy. I found it a unique mechanic to preemptively choose their thoughts to influence the dialogue that would follow. They confess though they’ve achieved the greatest dream to exist since sliced bread, they feel… Empty. Maybe it wasn’t their dream after all? But ah, maybe it’s nothing. Perhaps it isn’t important, they silently hum. Or, maybe you can help achieve yet another goal? They’re exhausting themselves. It never seems like enough. I felt a pang in my heart as I witnessed their willingness to hurt themselves and those around them in a last-stitch attempt to hold onto whatever semblance of a goal they have left.
This part of The Repairing Mantis particularly hits home for me, and many others. Knowing you’re so close to the taste of fulfillment, but always placing the heavy blame of supposed “failure” on your own shoulders. But what else can you do? Shouldn’t it be your dream after all? What happens after you achieve it? Was the agonizing journey worth it? You’ve both mentally and physically ripped yourself apart all this time. Despite that, the future lies ahead, and therefore hope. Often dreams morph and mold anew, and the non-linear path you walk never seems like the journey you expected until you reach your destination. It takes a full Night’s sleep to create a dream, after all. And it’s no less a dream for it.
The Repairing Mantis gives you two simple paths to choose; Mending, and destruction. Though often one melds into the other. You can play dream-dealer as flesh is traded like a holy prize. Look to the still murky waters for a new sullen maw. One who wants more, but can’t put their teeth on it. Perhaps they should envision their future just as the others?
At this point of exploration, you’re left feeling like a monster with some nefarious purpose even if you calmed and quelled lost souls. Healing is often a messy journey, and The Repairing Mantis approaches that narrative appropriately. Albeit with some stereotypical dialogue for the sake of brevity, but it makes a clear and earnest point.
Clouded tones of dark and pale lie still across the low-poly landscape as the horizon fills with dark bubbled text of despair, a striking change of scenery as you hurriedly drone forth with flittering wings of rescue. Hanging by a final thread, intervening is met with doubt. Seemingly their only options are to make you happy with a transactional friendship one last time, or to accept that you do actually care. It was almost a challenge to watch another soul act out the sour play of only worrying about the happiness and health of others before yourself. A dance of false unworthiness. Of refusing to believe that you deserve help just as much as the next. Asking for help is a noble challenge, but it’s so worth it, if not to discover the options they have for survival. They’re lost, gravely injured while grasping at the happiness that is flight. Greeting them with compassion comes as a pleasant shock, and you set off with another bargain to the skies, a new dream created instead of nostalgia sucked dry. Give them a new chance.
You’re left feeling almost hollow, unsure of your helpfulness. With a life saved, a final scaly greeting meets your presumably giant mantis eyes. Your dysfunctional help was instrumental in grasping at goals and breathing life into nightmarish realities. Your hard work paid off, one way or another. But was it a true success? That infernal bridge met with suffering on one end… A world of agony and fatigue. Often we must destroy what we’ve spent our whole life building. Is that a choice you’ll make? The sky cracks again.
The experience of The Repairing Mantis is heavy and relatable. It is very simple on its surface, but that isn’t a total detriment. It gives you time to reflect, though the lack of environmental details plays into the atmosphere, it does begin to become a bit too familiar down the line. But with the games short length and narrative focus, it’s understandable. I wouldn’t say “fun” isn’t the right word to attach to it, but rather… Cathartic. It’s an artistic piece with value, which is one of many great things games bring to the table as a medium. It fills a certain creative niche of tender, yet grotesque surrealness.
You can check out Dread XP for more words about The Repairing Mantis and other video games coming out soon.