Review: Quantum Conundrum

Review: Quantum Conundrum

With its cutesy aesthetic, environmental puzzles, and God-mic narrator, Joe Average might look at Quantum Condundrum and say to himself, “Gee. This looks an awful lot like Portal.” Fortunately, I’ve managed to take my Joe Average colored glasses off and can now tell you that even though Quantum Conundrum shares a co-creator with Portal, they compare like apples and oranges.

Quantum Conundrum is all about the puzzles, so much so in fact it might be more accurate to say that it is only about the puzzles. There are some futile attempts at humor and a story, but all of that really seems to miss the mark. The puzzle solving, on the other hand, hits the nail right on the head.

In QC you take the role of a ten (or possibly twelve) year old boy who has been dropped off, uninvited, at his uncle’s manor. Upon entering the manor we discover that Uncle Qwadrangle has disappeared into a mysterious pocket dimension and the manor has gone on lockdown. With no idea what has happened, the uncle hands you the keys to one of his greatest inventions, the interdimensional shift device (or IDS) and sets you on the task of restoring power and order to the manor.

The IDS allows the player access to four dimensions: fluffy, heavy, slow-mo, and reverse gravity. Shifting dimensions will alter the properties of the environment. For example, shifting into the fluffy dimension will make everything lighter and allow you to lift objects that were previously too heavy to move. Using these dimensions in conjunction with one another introduces increasingly more complex puzzles as you gain access to more and more of the four dimensions.

This little guy is IKE. He eats things.

The puzzles in Quantum Conundrum generally involve a combination of timing, platforming, and dimension shifting and, for the most part, are enormously satisfying. While I was constantly challenged, I was never frustrated and Airtight Games has done a fantastic job of keeping every level unique. Almost never was I doing the same thing twice. While there are only four dimensions the player can shift between, every puzzle had a unique mechanic needed to solve it. The platforming can be a bit floaty at times and I tended to miss even basic jumps a few times, but the game is generous with checkpoints and there was next to no forced replaying of a level.

Kind of a jerk.

While the puzzles are fantastic there are a few aspects to Quantum Conundrum that are less satisfactory. Throughout the game, the player is kept company by the disembodied voice of Uncle Qwadrangle and while he tries his damndest to be charming and witty, he comes off as somewhat desperate and just generally unlikeable. Sometimes the narrator will be explaining things to you, the player, and then he will abruptly change to talking to the ten (or twelve) year old boy you are playing as. On top of that, he often just insults you, both as the player and as the character, and when he isn’t looking down his nose at you he is just dropping random and unsatisfying statements like “You know what I miss? Keytars.” Everything about the narrator feels like Airtight was trying to recapture some of the magic that made Portal so enjoyable. A witty and scathing narrator can be very effective, but Uncle Qwadrangle is just too condescending and unlikeable to hit that mark.

There is also a thin attempt at some story, but it isn’t really developed enough to be anything other than a reason why your character should continue to solve puzzles. There are a few subtle hints dropped throughout the game that made me feel like the ending was going to drop a huge twist-bomb on me, but this turned out to just be one of a couple missed opportunities to actually make the narrative interesting and involving.

Get used to it…

Everything about Quantum Conundrum’s aesthetic and writing is very tongue-in-cheek and while it can be a bit ham-fisted with the writing, it does sometimes manage to be creative. The game is short enough (around three hours for just a single play through) that the game’s many punny book titles and goofy portraits were charming in their own strange way. There is just something about reading “Our Safes Will Block Out the Sun” and then seeing a volley of safes flying towards you that still makes me smile. You will find yourself walking down the same hallway an awful lot, though.

In essence, Quantum Conundrum is a very good puzzle solving game wrapped in a somewhat shabby package. Everything that isn’t the player throwing safes over vats of boiling science goo and using the slow-mo dimension in conjunction with the reverse gravity dimension to fly across deadly gaps feels either forced or ham-fisted. Luckily, the game is mostly about the puzzles and it is quite easy to ignore everything that could be considered unlikeable. And while it’s only around three hours long, there are countless collectables, time trails, and leaderboards that will extend the re-playability of the game.

Quantum Conundrum is cheap as dirt at $14.99 on Steam and has two scheduled DLC packs to release sometime in the undecided future. It will also be released on consoles (via XBLA and PSN) on July 11, 2012.

 

Score: 8.0/10

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