Recent puzzly games: we love The Witness
Tuesday, October 4, 2022
Comments: 1 (latest October 25)
Tagged: reviews, linelith, puzzles, the looker, taiji, the witness, kredolis
And now, a round of puzzle games that made me think about The Witness!
(It's a change from thinking about Myst, right?)
- The Looker
- by Matthew VanDevander -- game site
More or less a fan sequel to The Witness. It's not a straight-line copy though. The designer doesn't share Jon Blow's taste for philosophical screeds, for a start -- fine by me. Taiji also drops Witness's first-person-obscura viewpoint in favor of a top-down not-even-orthographic sprite landscape. Imagine if Final Fantasy 5 were rendering The Witness's fauve-architectural ruined gardenscape.
(That's some strong pixel art, come to think. Taiji carries off the style of a high-poly first-person game in a completely different medium. I bet that was harder than it looks.)
But you don't care about the visuals; you want to know puzzles. The puzzles are really good! It's the familiar business of panels scattered across the island. Each panel is a grid; you have to light up specific squares in the grid in accordance with The Rules. Figure out what the little symbols mean, you're golden. Until the corner cases and the combinations creep up on you.
I said it wasn't a straight-line copy of The Witness. (And not just because you're not drawing lines, ha ha.) Taiji is more willing to move off the grid. More secrets; more puzzle stuff hidden in the landscape. More moving platforms. More tricks that you'll only discover by poking around every corner and trying wild ideas just because.
On the down side, Taiji asks you to try a lot of wild ideas. New mechanics aren't always introduced very clearly. Sometimes it throws you a panel with a new symbol, and what the hey? You just have to guess what the designer is thinking. (The Witness generally introduced ideas with very constrained grids that led you step by step. Not here, not always.) The rules are always guessable -- I was able to figure them out -- but I spent some time staring blankly first.
On the up side, once you've guessed, you can't rest on your laurels. You run into a panel where your idea doesn't work! You almost understood the rule, but now you have to dig deeper. Over and over, the game forces you to refine your theories.
(This idea has come up in a lot of my favorite puzzle games, hasn't it? The complex rule which seems simple at first, but then there's more to it. Baba is You did it. Monster's Expedition did it with superb elan. I suppose it's not a new idea -- DROD, or remember Oxyd? -- but it's been having a moment recently.)
I had to ask for hints on a couple of puzzles because some of the wild ideas were just too wild for me. And I did not try to complete all the (multiple layers of) bonus puzzles. But I had a good time solving. Lots to discover; much puzzle goodness.
- by Subcreation Studio -- game site
I can't talk about Witness fan games without mentioning this one. It's a short sharp parody. (The Pyst of The Witness, and how many people are going to get that reference?)
There are some puzzles, but it's mostly taking the piss, and it does a great job of that. I laughed a lot.
- by Patrick Traynor -- game site
Sort of a micro-Witness-like. It's part of an anthology called CosmOS 9, but Linelith was my favorite.
It's 2D, but it's got the Witness trope of drawing lines on panels. With a rule. And some symbols. And the rule has more to it than you might think! Short but sneaky.
- by Pharos Interactive -- game site
A bit of a ringer in this list. This has the Witness visual style -- an island, sunny and Mediterranean; not so much detail but lots of color. Big sense of place.
But Kredolis harks all the way back to Myst and Riven, skipping past the puzzly cousin-line of The Witness. No panels, no iterated mechanic. It's pure environmental puzzles. On an island.
The puzzles are not Myst-league, however. It's a pleasant assortment, but they're not thematically connected to anything and it doesn't get particularly deep. It's more the kind of grab-bag of puzzles you'd find in a web escape game. Think Myst Island rather than, say, Stoneship or Channelwood.
That's fine, of course. You can enjoy the hedge mazes and giant machines and tram rides for the Myst homage that they are. And the plot, which is, well, an homage to any dozen 1990s Myst-likes about puzzles in Atlantis.
My only complaint is that some of the puzzles feel a bit underclued or just not completely thought through. I found myself saying "Is this what the designer was thinking? ...I guess it was."
(Same reaction I mentioned above in Taiji, in fact. Except Taiji used that to introduce entire series of puzzles plumbing a mechanic, whereas Kredolis is all one-offs.)