Quantum Conundrum Hands-On (E3 2012)
Puzzle games are all the rage, at least when they’re done right. Look at titles like Braid or Portal, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. The kind of puzzlers that force players to bend their mind, to look at things from a different perspective, to calculate, and to struggle to the point of frustration until suddenly, without notice, the answer is so simple. That sort of gameplay is what excites gamers, because it offers something unique and challenging.
So when Quantum Conundrum was announced and headed by Kim Swift who co-created Portal, it felt like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want to take on such an adventure from one of the minds that created one of this generation’s best puzzle games? Quantum Conundrum is a very different kind of puzzle game, though it feels similar in scope and dimension to Portal, yet focuses on exactly that: dimensional shifts. And because the game is intended to be more child-friendly and cute, with a story more appropriate for kids, players take on the role of a 9-12 year old kid dropped off at his crazy genius uncle’s mansion. The story unfolds as players find out that the uncle is trapped in another dimension, and that it’s up to this intelligent runt to figure out how to bring him back.
Gameplay revolves around four basic dimensional shifts: fuzzy, which turns all objects not bolted to the ground into featherweight and cuddly versions of themselves; heavy, which as it sounds has the opposite effect of fuzzy while also making objects stronger, denser, and indestructible; another dimension slows time down 1/20th it’s ordinary speed; and the fourth dimension reverses gravity (so objects fall up). Each of these dimensional shifts occur at the press of the button, just like any on/off switch, and effects everything in the surrounding area. However, dimensional shifts can only be activated if the proper batteries to charge these dimensions are in the proper receptacles to power those dimensions. Players hold onto an interdimensional shift device to activate these changes.
This opens up an interesting and unique sort of gameplay. Puzzles revolve around object weight, density, velocity, momentum, placement, and likely even more. I played through one level available on the show floor that had me create a staircase by properly timing when a laser should destroy blocks, time jumping onto very fast-moving crates, and get across a massive vat of acid with only a box plummeting downward. In a sense, the puzzles aren’t just about figuring out how to complete it, but also have some platforming mechanics. You have to solve and complete the puzzle, so timing and skill are required.
Some of the dimensions can also be used simultaneously, while others cannot. Fluffy and heavy, for instance, cancel each other out, while fluffy and reverse gravity are useless when used in conjunction. Each room also separates when certain dimensions are activated, and most of the game revolves around solving puzzles with a selection of the dimensions, not all of them.
One additional impressive feat of Quantum Conundrum is the extraneous and artistic merits of the mansion itself. The huge building is filled to the brim with original art developed by the team, plenty of which is quirky and funny. They all also change during dimensional shifts. A painting of a horse may turn into a unicorn in the fuzzy dimension, or into an angry stallion in the heavy dimension. The developers assured me that there are plenty of little bonuses like this hidden within the game to make walking around and exploring just as exciting and entertaining as completing the puzzles.
Quantum Conundrum is set for release on Steam on June 21st, and on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network this summer.