Gorogoa: Puzzle Game

It’s a revelation the first time Gorogoa actually clicks. At first look, the puzzle game appears to be simple: you’re given a four-square grid to work with, and you can move cards about within those squares. Each card features hand-drawn imagery of everything from bright parks to intricate stained glass windows. You can alter these cards in certain cases by zooming in or panning the image around.

But it’s when the cards interact with one another that the real magic happens. For me, the big moment came when I changed three cards about to form an interwoven scene, placing them in precisely the right positions and using just the perfect image. A bird on one card swooped past a tree limb on another and knocked an apple into a bowl when it locked in. I thought I was the smartest person in the planet.

THE KIND OF GAME THAT IS DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE IN WORDS


Gorogoa is one of those games that is difficult to describe. It’s elegant in its simplicity, presenting what appears to be a simple challenge at first before growing to reveal something far more complex and nuanced. As you progress through the three-hour adventure, an enigmatic plot emerges that connects everything together. There’s a small child and a bright dragon, as well as what appears to be a quest for five orbs to calm the beast.

That is the idea, however the adventure is more of a hallucinatory adventure than a traditional story. You’re guiding the youngster through collapsing ruins one minute and trying to light a lamp with a star the next. There appears to be a comparison between the many periods of his life, however it is never fully explained. The story and imagery, in contrast to the gameplay, are very serious, with little humor or whimsy. There are scenes where you explore what appears to be a war-torn village, as well as one when the boy embarks on a lengthy, exhausting hike up a steep mountain in unbearable heat.

Gorogoa


Although there is no clear tutorial in the game, it is simple to see the options available to you. Objects that you can handle will light, and each card will have buttons to zoom in or shift the scene. You can sometimes cut a card into many pieces, and other times you’ll have to stack cards on top of each other to create something new. You can experiment with scale and perspective, as well as space and time. The problem isn’t figuring out how to accomplish things; it’s figuring out what needs to be done.

Her Majesty is the reigning monarch.

The heart of Gorogoa, like last year’s The Witness, is observation. There is no overarching purpose other than to observe how the various cards interact with one another. This could be anything as simple as recognizing that a cloud has the same general shape as a set of gears, or that a moth will wander about in response to its proximity to a cluster of stars. There are no consequences for making a mistake. There’s no harm in giving anything a shot if you think it might work, and seeing your idea come true is really satisfying. The fact that you’re never told what to do only adds to the sweetness of these achievements.

The most striking aspect of Gorogoa, though, is that I never felt stuck or annoyed there. Sure, there were times when I wasn’t sure how to proceed, but that never disturbed me. I just kept experimenting with different concepts until I discovered the appropriate one, which didn’t take long. This is unusual in puzzle games, which normally have only one answer and a single path to get there. You’re left pounding your head against a wall until you can brute force a solution if you can’t figure them out. Gorogoa, on the other hand, avoids this irritation with its hazily defined aims and variable mechanisms. Even as the difficulty level increased with cards with several layers to examine, I never felt stressed about finding a solution.

Gorogoa isn’t a difficult or time-consuming game. It’s more of a clever and complex toy. Although the tone is solemn, the overall theme is one of wonder. You notice something, make a guess as to what it may do, and then give it a shot. You have a decent possibility of being correct.