The puzzle-platformer game, Quantum Conundrum, is the first project Kim Swift has been lead designer of since she left Valve to work at Airtight Games. For those who may not know, she was the lead designer of Portal and there’s definitely a reminiscent aspect of that in this IP.
Much like Portal, the game is played in first-person utilizing physics defying technology to solve puzzles while a disembodied voice mocks/ encourages you. In this game, the disembodied voice is that of Professor Quadwrangle, the protagonist’s mad scientist of an Uncle.
As the game opens, the player is treated to a little introduction by the Professor discussing how his sister has a habit of dumping her son off at his home to visit every so often. Despite the general expression of displeasure he has toward these visits from his nephew, there’s also a sense that he enjoys having someone to show off his inventions to, as he does so every time the child is dropped off.
However, it wouldn’t be a game if this particular visit wasn’t somehow different from the others. When the player enters into the house, the Professor is nowhere to be seen, talking to you over the intercom system as he starts talking about some new invention he is working on.
Things very quickly go awry and the house goes into lockdown as the Professor gets trapped in a pocket dimension with a limited case of amnesia about what happened.
Quadwrangle, begrudgingly, gives his nephew usage of a glove he’d created that allows the switching of dimensions that affect the properties of objects around the player in order for him to reset the power in the house to undo the lockdown. Also, finding the Professor is a priority in there somewhere as well. This is more or less where the game begins as each new room offers you puzzles which you have to solve utilizing your dimensional shifting abilities.
You don’t get all the abilities at once, obviously. Each shift ability gets introduced separately then worked in with another to give you a handle of how to think about each problem you’re faced with. There are 4 dimensions you can switch through, not including the standard reality.
There’s the Fluffy dimension, the Heavy dimension, the Slow dimension, and the Reverse Gravity dimension.
Most of these are pretty self explanatory. Fluffy makes objects lighter, Heavy increases weight of objects, Slow slows down time and Reverse Gravity reverses gravity. As a cute little extra, the environments themselves change visually in each dimension as well, including paintings on the wall. Seeing a portrait of Professor Quadwrangle turn to him wearing a bunny suit or with an electric guitar depending on what dimension you’re in is quite humorous.
Each dimension is utilized well in the game, having a distinct feel and purpose. The way they work together is also done well in solving some of the games harder puzzles. Switching them was fairly simple as each shoulder button is allocated to one of the dimensions as opposed to having to cycle through them.
Humor is a pretty big part of the game as the Professor’s musings over family history or the inventions he’s created over the years are recounted to you as you travel through his insanely designed house. A minor gripe I have with the game is that you don’t get to play with the other inventions. There’s a hallway where you are literally walking passed a jet pack and a freeze gun. No matter what you do you can not use either of them.
Outside of that, the puzzles are very clever, though sometimes unfairly balanced by the clunkiness of first-person platforming. I maintain that first person controls should be placed nowhere near games that necessitate precise platforming. The satisfaction you get from solving a puzzle can lead to some of the best moments of the game.
The most frustrating moments will be when you’ve intellectually figured out the puzzle, but the act of pulling it off proves a challenge either because of stupidly small platforms or the necessity of quick reflexes while plummeting toward your doom.
Environment-wise, the game suffers from the house being sort of bare, though abstractly cartoonish, with little character beyond suits of armor and the odd portrait.
The rooms are pretty repetitive, a lot of the hallways and interconnected rooms having the exact same layout and all the furniture throughout the house being the exact same. Though it does sort of justify the uniformity of the décor by the introduction of a machine that clones objects, explaining why all the tables and chairs are similar.
It’s not an ugly game but after playing several levels you’ll get bored with the aesthetic as it feels like you’ve seen 90% of what the house has to offer visually early on.
Honestly, though, it’s a fun game. There are definitely elements of frustration but it’s not to a degree that damaged my overall experience. Professor Quadwrangle’s comments kept me amused while I worked out the intricacies of each room, savoring each accomplishment. I’ll admit the abrupt end is far from a reward for all the effort but it was an overall good experience. For $14.99 I think it’s worth picking up to support games that encourage creative puzzle solving.