Kim Swift, one of the talented brains behind the mind-bending puzzler Portal, left Valve back in 2009 to work as lead designer on a title at Airtight Games. That game is Quantum Conundrum. So why do I bring up the fact that Swift worked on Portal? Because her latest title bears an undeniable resemblance to the iconic physics-based puzzler. When two products are so similar and one clearly serves as inspiration for the other, comparisons are bound to be made. I’ll do my best to judge this game on its own merits, but bear in mind that in a post-Portal world, the bar for this type of game is incredibly high.
Before I jump into the game mechanics and what makes Quantum Conundrum unique, let’s first go over the story. You play as a little 12 year-old boy who’s visiting his Uncle, Professor Fitz Quadrangle, at his mansion. Professor Q just happens to be a mad scientist of sorts who lives in a place that feels a bit more like a massive lab/obstacle course rather than an actual home. When you arrive, you realize your uncle has managed to trap himself in a different dimension and it’s up to you to help him out. The premise is quite simple, which is actually a very good thing for this type of game, and it even has quite a bit of humor and personality; unfortunately however, a lot of the jokes feel a bit forced and cheesy, lacking the same level of clever wit found in the Portal series.
Like the plot, the gameplay mechanics are also quite simple, as they are grounded on a single concept: dimensional shifts. As you progress through the mansion, you gain new ways to alter your surroundings. There are a total of four different dimensions to play with (fluffy, heavy, slow time and reverse gravity) and each is mapped to a different shoulder button, so it’s incredibly easy to switch between all four. The game also does a great job acclimating you to each new dimension, presenting you with a controlled environment where you can see the new dimension in action before having full control of it yourself.
Experimenting and discovering what kind of impact each of the dimensions has on your surroundings is a lot of fun and learning to use them in succession to complete various puzzles provides a rewarding sense of accomplishment. During my time with the game, I rarely found myself completely stumped on what to do next, instead the challenge lied with trying to successfully execute what I knew I needed to do. At times the game often felt like a platformer, but with such floaty controls, I found myself failing far too often because I wasn’t able to maneuver the way I wanted. These moments were particularly frustrating and hindered my enjoyment of the game quite a bit. That said, being able to pick up a super-heavy safe in the fluffy dimension, switch to the slow time dimension just after hurling it, and then hop on the now suspended object to bridge a gap never got old.
What did grow quite stale after spending several hours with Quantum Conundrum was its visual design. At first glance it looks fun, unique and whimsical, but after you’ve walked down the same looking staircase and hallway several times, it begins to lose its charm. It also doesn’t help that the game is set up very much like Portal in that you progress from one chamber to the next, adding a level of redundancy that only the Valve puzzler can get away with. The paintings that line the mansion walls are pretty interesting though, as switching between dimensions while viewing one of these works of art renders a slightly different looking portrait. And then there’s Ike, Professor Q’s creepy, yet somewhat cute yellow-eyed fuzzball of a pet.
At the end of the day, Quantum Conundrum is a solid puzzle game, which shouldn’t come as a shock considering the talent behind it. The dimensional shifts provide a unique game mechanic and switching between each is a breeze. Unfortunately, the level complexity within the puzzles themselves don’t quite match up to the likes of Portal, leaving me with fewer “aha!” moments than I had hoped. Additionally, I often times found myself frustrated with the controls, especially when the game required precise platforming to progress onward. The game sports a unique and quirky visual design, but by the time you’ve spent several hours with the game, the redundancy begins to bleed through.
If you’ve already played both Portal games to death and are dying to sink your teeth into another mind-bending puzzler, look no further, for Quantum Conundrum will undoubtedly satiate that craving. Just don’t expect it to blow you away like jumping through portals for the first time.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+/- Presentation is full of personality, but wears thin far too quickly.
– Loose controls make precision maneuvers more frustrating than they should be.