“It’s like Portal.”
Ever since it was announced at PAX Prime 2011, that’s been the best and most succinct way to describe Square Enix’s Quantum Conundrum. This comparison shouldn’t come as a surprise since Portal creator Kim Swift is also the lead designer on Quantum Conundrum at developer Airtight Games. The similarities end there, however, because there really is a quirky uncle to save at the end of this game.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Genre: First Person Puzzler (With Pillows)
Release Date: Summer 2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Instead of an eerily chipper AI, the disembodied voice at the heart of Quantum Conundrum belongs to Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. Quadwrangle (voiced by John “Q from Star Trek” de Lancie) is a mad scientist with a strong emphasis on the science with less of a focus on the mad part. Described as “eccentric” by Airtight, Quadwrangle is also the inventor of a fabulous gadget known as the Interdimensional Shift Device, which allows his ten-year old nephew to remake the world by switching it over to one of four different dimensions:
- The Fluffy Dimension makes everything pillowsoft and ten times lighter than normal.
- The Heavy Dimension coats everything in a layer of steel and makes items ten times heavier than normal.
- The Slow Motion Dimension… wait for it… slows down time.
- The Reverse Grav Dimension turns gravity on its head.
The Reverse Grav Dimension was a no-show in the PAX East demo, but puzzles involving the other three dimensions gave more than a few convention-goers the fits and starts. Their charming and cunning design also plastered a smile on my face that lasted into the next day.
For some unexplained reason, Quadwrangle’s mansion is full of lasers, bottomless pits, and razor-sharp fan blades. After finding the appropriate IDS Battery, players can use the four shoulder buttons to trigger a dimensional shift and sidestep these lawsuits waiting to happen.
For example, one of the earliest puzzles required players to flip over to the Fluffy Dimension, pick up a chair, throw it towards a laser, and then quickly switch over to the Heavy Dimension so the chair drops in front of a laser, blocking its path. Balancing all the elements of dimensional switching made for a satisfying puzzle, but it also lead to some tricky controller movements. Perhaps I just need more practice, but picking up an item with X and throwing it with B after correctly angling it with the Right Stick seemed to take me forever.
However, the cleverest puzzle only required one dimensional shift and an ability to look at the big picture. About halfway through the demo, four sets of blocks fall from the ceiling. A laser quickly cuts across the screen, destroying them. This one had me stumped until I (literally) stepped back and noticed that constantly switching back and forth to the Heavy Dimension would destroy some blocks while leaving others, creating a perfect staircase. A hop up the stairs and I was on to the next room.
And speaking of hopping, the Slow Motion Dimension requires a lot of it. In addition to the razor-sharp fan blades, Quadwrangle’s mansion is well-appointed with multiple furniture cannons. Slowing down time turns the fan blades into a revolving door of sorts, and the table that previously flew over your head at 60 MPH is now the perfect size and speed for a jumping puzzle. So jump you will. First-person jumping is always a hit-or-miss proposition, but Quantum Conundrum did it perfectly. The jumps never felt awkward and the game is very forgiving of jumps that look dicey. So long as you’re close, our mute protagonist will pull himself up onto the platform… I imagine with a silent little fist pump.
The cartoonish world created within Quadwrangle’s mansion already makes Quantum Conundrum feel polished and ready for release. From the soft cushiony-ness of the Fluffy Dimension to the hard edges and glinting steel of the Heavy Dimension, it feels “homey.” Even if the puzzles didn’t require you to check out every corner of the mansion, you’ll want to.
Quantum Conundrum’s final form will feature over 50 puzzles rooms when it’s released this Summer. The development team at Airtight Games is hoping the title will be selected for this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion, so Xbox 360 owners may get it before everyone else. Whenever it comes out, I think puzzle fans, Portal fans, and everyone else would do well to keep an eye out for Quantum Conundrum.