Papo & Yo

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This third person adventure game was completed in less than four hours, but somehow it felt a little longer than that. It was for the most part easy but also charming, and with many original puzzle ideas. The closest thing I can find to compare it with is the American McGee’s Alice series, only without the combat. It had the same level of surrealism and also felt like it could maybe sort of fit into that universe somehow.

The game touches upon a light story of the small kid Quico and his alcoholic father in a few brief cutscenes, but by far most of the game is spent solving puzzles in arena after arena with metaphorical substitutes. In the beginning there’s another kid that teases you, and it doesn’t take long before you get the small robot Lula on your back as a jet to make double jumps possible. Lula can also be asked to fly over and activate a circle by clicking the right mouse button.

Screenshot

A general style of puzzle design is that white chalk lines means interactive stuff. Animated cogwheels drawn on walls can be clicked to make a building walk to a different place so you can jump across roofs. Handles can be pushed or pulled to tip over a stack of buildings into a “snake” you can run across. Keys can be turned to open up a passage, typically by walls and buildings being lifted away.

Completed: The Witness

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I finally managed to complete The Witness after six sessions. The last save game said I solved 359 puzzles, and according to Steam it took me 26 hours. It has a tendency to exaggerate, but somewhere in the early twenties is probably right. Only 7 out of 11 lasers needed to be switched on in order to enter the mountain and I decided to settle with that. I never had any intentions to be a completionist about this game.

Another good reason for not wanting to solve everything in this game is that I actually didn’t like many of the later puzzles. I never cheated or read any hints and I can honestly say I figured it all out on my own, but some of the puzzles were too difficult for me to find them fun. I really had to be on the nails of my toes with some of these. Especially inside the mountain the puzzles got really vicious, mixing existing rules with damaged or combined panels. Some where inventive, some very difficult to observe at all, and many were combined across smaller and bigger puzzles.

Screenshot

Without spoiling too much, I almost thought I found my final nemesis puzzle in the bottom of a big shaft inside the mountain. It was another one of those where several smaller puzzles were combined with a big one to make everything come together. I had such a hard time with that one that I actually had to draw the board and pieces on paper, cut them out, and spend hours puzzling them together at my dinner table. I imagine many other players would have given up here and found the solution on the internet, but I was very stubborn. I got this far and I wanted to complete the game without cheating. Eventually I did succeed in finding the correct combination of pieces, flipped the answer, and the door went up.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

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Developer: Deco Digital | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I spent this Saturday morning playing through this charming first person puzzle adventure game. It took only about 2 hours to get through it, but I was fine with that. I’ve actually been yearning for shorter games lately. Of course, the length depends on the genre but especially platform, puzzle and adventure games can easily overstay their welcome in my book. (Maybe it’s because I’ve completed so many of them?)

One thing that puzzled me about this game was a warning I was shown when starting it up. Fraps has been known to crash D3D11. Okay. I’ve been using Fraps as my loyal companion for years on end, snapshotting screenshots for hundreds of games without trouble – but that message was probably pointed towards video recording (which I almost never do).

Warning

Either way, the message felt out of place. It almost looks like a personal vendetta against Fraps.

As a first person puzzle it used the recent fad of having an eloquent narrator comment on a lot of findings, sometimes philosophizing his existence as the god he clearly believes he is. He reminded me quite a lot of the narrator in The Stanley Parable. Sometimes entering a room triggered a long debate which went on a bit too far, but for the most part he was entertaining. Especially towards the end, where he became extremely paranoid. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was certainly interesting.

Papers, Please

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Developer: Lucas Pope | Released: 2013 | Genre: Simulation, Puzzle

This was a mix of a simulation and a puzzle game as an immigration officer at a border checkpoint for the fictitious country of Arstotzka in 1982. Inspecting the passports and papers of the arrivals from a massive queue was split up in days. In between a family had to be supported with the income, and if I had too many validation errors then maybe they would starve, be cold, or even die.

On various new days there were a change of rules, possibly introducing a new tool. Sometimes it was just additional papers, at other times confiscating passports, detaining, searching for hidden weapons after a couple of snapshots, even using a key to open a locker with a weapon and shooting a runner.

I didn’t expect this one to grab me as much as it did. Normally I’m not always keen on these simulation kind of games, and I had prepared myself for one of those that I played for one hour (the unwritten backlog rule) and then abandoned. I even selected easy mode with an additional income to avoid having to break too much of a sweat supporting my family. But within just a few minutes I was really hooked.

One reason was the terrific atmosphere – the dark, dystopian scenario, with perfect muffled talk sounds. Another reason was that checking up on details in passports, papers and fingerprints spoke to my tad of a perfectionist gene that I made good use of in my 12 years as a software tester. Not that I didn’t get quite a few error receipts. Sometimes the game did feel a bit unfair as if it wanted me to be downright wrong about a decision no matter what I chose. But that feeling of nailing a wrong piece of information and maybe even detaining someone, it was mysteriously fascinating.