is a first person puzzle-platformer with more than a passing resemblance to Portal
. Kim Swift, one of the DigiPen students behind the creation of Portal
, took her talents to Airtight Games and the dimensional shifting physics-defying gameplay of Quantum Conundrum
is the result of this partnership. It is impossible to talk about Quantum Conundrum
without drawing comparisons to Portal but when two games share a creator that is bound to happen. Fortunately, the physics-based first person puzzle platforming genre is woefully underrepresented on the Xbox 360, making any game a welcome breath of fresh air.Quantum Conundrum
starts off with you as a young boy coming to visit your crazy uncle, Professor Quadrangle, at the majestic Quandrangle Manor. Usually your uncle appears with a new, shiny invention to show off but this time, he’s nowhere to be found. Instead his disembodied voice, which is provided by John de Lancie, the actor famous for portraying Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation
, begins guiding you on your mission to restore power to the mansion and hopefully free him in the process. Within minutes of starting the game, you are given the IDS (Inter-Dimensional Shift) device and access to the fluffy dimension.
GlaDoS may have been an omnipresent, disembodied voice in Portal but while she was cold, cruel and seemingly wanted you to fail, Professor Quandrangle’s disembodied voice is actually helpful, warm and only a touch crazy. Sure, I appreciated it when during one room he yelled out “JUMP!” in time to save me from falling into a pool of glowing science juice, but his guidance may provide a little too much hand-holding for some gamers. Thankfully, while the puzzle rooms start off easy, they eventually ramp up in difficulty to “maybe if I ram my head into the wall really, really hard the answer to this puzzle will present itself”.
The four dimensions you have access to are fluffy (makes objects 10x lighter), heavy (makes objects 10x heavier), slow-motion (makes everything 10x more awesome) and anti-gravity (makes everything defy gravity). The first part of the game, the mansion’s Blue Wing, only allows access to fluffy and heavy which makes the puzzles fairly simplistic. Stick with it until you reach the Yellow Wing and can access the slow-motion dimension as that is when the game’s internal laws of physics create some ingenious, brutal puzzle situations. The level design teaches you techniques that layer on top of each other in a very slick, thought-out manner where you never feel ill-equipped for the crazy combinations of lasers, conveyor belts, impossibly long jumps and flying furniture.
Without the assistance of any video guides, I managed to complete the game in just less than 10 hours. While that does mean the game is on the short side, the achievement list is just as well-designed as the puzzles. Every major story moment gives you an achievement, there’s one for finding one of the collectibles and another for finding all of them, a few miscellaneous achievements and finally, a triumvirate of hair-pulling, completion percentage killing achievements: meet the time goal for each level, the maximum number of shifts allowed goal for each level and don’t die on every level. Believe me, some of those time and shift goals are downright brutal which adds longevity to the otherwise short story mode.
I have to take a moment and offer my heartfelt thanks to Airtight Games for making the achievement hunting process as easy as possible for us. There is a level select feature that gives you the goal time, shift goal and tells you not only if there is a collectible in the level but if you cleared it without dying. I wish every game would include these features as it takes the sting out of some of these very hard achievements and is a great way to track your progress.
It’s taken me this long to discuss the aesthetics as well, who plays a puzzle game for the graphics? While the graphics are nothing exceptional, it is cool how objects change when you shift dimensions. A few times I killed myself by jumping onto what I thought would be a platform but was instead just an off-color patch of radioactive science juice. I also forgot this was an XBLA game at times, which shows how far the graphics for downloadable games have come in the last few years. On the auditory end of the spectrum, the music is nearly nonexistent. This was clearly a design choice as it allows you to focus on the puzzle right in front of you with nearly everything giving off sound cues. In what I thought was a great touch, every sound cue also has a visual cue: from buttons lighting up to clear pipes that let you track the flow of power to an object. Between the visual cues matching up with the sound cues and the inclusion of subtitles, Quantum Conundrum
can be enjoyed by deaf gamers just as much as those that can hear.
The controls are of course, the exact same for everyone and they are perfectly acceptable for rapid fire dimension shifting and first person platforming. A few jumping puzzles presented issues with the camera but they were few and far between during the adventure. It can be hard to properly gauge your jumping distance, but this problem is consistent with both Portal
and even the pinnacle of first person platforming, Mirror's Edge
. Even if the controls cause you to meet an untimely end, you still get some of the game’s humor in the face of death. Call of Duty titles greet you with a quote every time you die, but Quantum Conundrum
fades to black with a “Thing You Will Never Experience”, which is a reference to the young age of the protagonist. Some of my favorites were “Never grow up to see television shows from your childhood remade into horrible movies” or “Never grow old enough to lie about your age.”
The humor of Quantum Conundrum
is heavy on the word play, with every book in the mansion sporting a “punny” title. As you move from room to room, the load times are disguised by having you traverse hallways with portraits of your uncle, his inventions and the mansion. Stopping in front of these portraits causes your uncle to launch into a description of the picture which fits perfectly with the old ramblings of a mad scientist. Whether you find these amusing or not is purely subjective, though I will say that I am a fan of Interdimensional Kinetic Entity….or IKE, whichever you find easier.
I went into Quantum Conundrum
not knowing what to expect and so I was very surprised when the dimension shifting gameplay grew on me. Puzzles were simple, logical and yet gave a rush of excitement when you made it through to the door at the other end. Figuring what to do is easy but figuring out how to do it is the perplexing part. At a 1200 price point, Quantum Conundrum
may be a bit too short but if you want the full completion, you will spend many hours perfecting your skills. Acceptable graphics, decent but not perfect controls and overall game length makes Quantum Conundrum
a very good addition to the XBLA marketplace but it remains just short of greatness.The reviewer completed the game without use of video guides (hence why it took some time to get this up!). The process took 8 hours and 12 minutes.