Bowl of tricks
I didn’t hear about Gorogoa until I read an article about its creator, Jason Roberts, and his seven-year journey developing this game. It intrigued me, as did the art in the screenshots, and I felt I owed it to him in some way to play this passion project. Spending seven years is a long damn time to work on a single game.
Gorogoa proves it was time well spent.
Gorogoa (Switch, PC, iOS [reviewed on an iPad])
Developer: Buried Signal LLC
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Released: December 14, 2017
MSRP: $4.99 (iOS), $14.99 (Switch, PC)
In my notes for this review, I wrote down ‘It’s like a mash-up of Framed and the Ting Tings “Shut Up and Let Me Go” music video’ and now that I’ve beat the game I stand by that odd simile. Simple to control on my iPad, the puzzles of Gorogoa revolve around manipulating pictures on a four-panel grid to help a young boy along on his travels. Every hand-drawn image is more than it seems and they can be separated, rearranged, zoomed in and out of, and joined in a number of surprising ways.
It can feel like madness at times but the way every solution coalesces continuously astounds me. No two panels are alike and I don’t figure out just how versatile a single image is until I play around with it, exhausting every possible permutation. Perhaps moving it to an open spot on the grid will reveal a blank frame I need to apply to another picture or maybe I have to zoom in on an image far enough to reveal a pivotal doorway. I find the experience is at its most genius when I’m forced to assemble an unexpected contraption needed to rotate a part of, or the entirety, of another image.
Tapping and moving every picture I discover is paramount to making it through each portion of the game. As the story moves along, the images and puzzle solutions become more intricate with so many moving pieces it can be easy to get lost. But those instances of confusion are quickly followed by the lightbulb above my head; the “ah-ha” moments of solution discovery I revel in as I successfully guide this young boy along his mission to collect five colored orbs.
Going into this I wasn’t expecting a clear and easily understandable story as I have come to expect obtuse tales when dealing with story-driven indie puzzle games. Gorogoa is no exception. While the general plot of a young boy collecting colorful orbs to either placate or completely stop a massive rainbow beast that appears in this world is easy enough to follow, the narrative can feel muddled throughout as the artwork tends to jump around to some wildly unexpected places.
It never loses its main theme which is connectivity. In the same way, many of the images connect in the puzzles, so too do the beats of the story. Often the connection may feel overly ambiguous. I’d be upset but I’m too damn astonished Roberts is able to craft such a thought-provoking tale using a simple four-panel set-up.
While it is short – it took me nearly an hour to reach the end – Gorogoa is worth a second and third trip not because there are new challenges to test, but because it gives me a chance to truly appreciate the clockwork-like precision of the puzzle design and the magnificent hand-drawn artwork found in every frame. It also gives me a chance to try and figure out just what the hell is happening in the story. This may be the fuzziest narrative I’ve ever had to tackle, open to a great many different interpretations, but that’s just part of the game’s elegance and brilliance. Even without understanding it, I can still safely say Gorogoa is one of the best puzzle games to ever grace my iPad.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]