Some of the new Mario games have been doing this thing where getting through the main level itself is pretty straightforward – you can make it through easily the first time, but sprinkled throughout are a bunch of extra collectibles that add a further challenge. First time through, you have to jump around, say, a lava lake, but if you want that collectible, you have to take a more complicated and dangerous path. This kind of level design has had its detractors, but I actually like this idea a lot. It makes it so that most people are able to get through the game, but people with more skill can add onto it and give themselves an experience with more depth and challenge.
I think that's the idea that Membrane was going for with its level design? But it missed out on something that really made it work for games like Super Mario 3D World: where that game still makes you engage with the mechanics to make it through the level, Membrane has a weird thing where you don't really even have to interact with the level mechanics. So instead of a game full of its own satisfying environmental challenges, it winds up a weirdly empty and dull experience that leaves you wonder why you're even playing.
It's especially weird because Membrane has a really strong base mechanic. You have a gun, where one button shoots out spheres that build up into structures that you can use to cross gaps, stop hazards, and complete electric circuits. You can only have a certain amount of them out at a time, so the other button shoots a projectile that breaks the structure and lets you collect it again.
But instead of coming up with anything to really do with it, most of the game's puzzles have very little in the way of complexity, and even when they are more involved, they're set up in a way so you don't have to engage with it in order to complete the level. You're generally able to ignore it and just run through, which 1: does a poor job of teaching you more advanced mechanics and 2: doesn't really hold your attention. And it's a shame because it's such a good gameplay idea!
The best puzzle games tend to have satisfying solutions, too. A lot Membrane, though, has stuff that makes you feel like you've kinda finagled a bootsy-ass solution out of nothing and... it's not something that feels satisfying. So even when I'm going through and getting every collectible and all, I usually wind up shrugging and moving along, not feeling like I was being A Smartybrain, and more like I was just brute forcing it. Nothing really satisfying about it.
It's really a shame because I like the look and sound and idea of this game so damn much, but it's not held together by anything that utilizes them to any great means. Even the mechanics themselves feel clunkier than they should – aiming in particular. For a game that seems to be asking for a deal of precision, the aiming controls are incredibly imprecise and usually require you to fiddle with it for a good five to ten seconds before you can get your shots where you need them to go.
So it's sort of a puzzle game where the puzzles don't matter. Most of the mechanics themselves don't matter at all, for the most part. They're just something you find yourself wishing you were playing something else – something that actually puts it all to use in a way that really feels worthwhile. And Membrane isn't that.
I really hope to see Membrane revisited at some point with a greater focus on making satisfying puzzles and using the mechanics to their fullest extent. As it stands, though, there really isn't much to go on here. Membrane's got great aesthetics and all, but there's nothing to really back it up, and so you wind up going through the game without feeling much like engaging in it. There are fun levels sprinkled throughout, but for the most part, I found myself wondering what the point was, and never wound up finding an answer.