"Breakin' All the Rules"
As it should be surmised by its name, Quantum Conundrum is very much a cerebral experience. Since it is a product of Kim Swift, one of the leading creative minds behind the critically acclaimed Portal, that should not be a surprise.
Similar to Portal, Quantum Conundrum is foremost a puzzle-platformer presented in the first-person perspective. The story takes place after your silent character is sent to stay with his eccentric genius of an uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. When the young boy arrives, the mad Professor had already been in the middle of a strange experiment that foreseeably goes wrong. The experiment leaves Quadwrangle trapped in some alternate dimension.
This is where the unique hook to the game comes in. Quadwrangle’s mansion is also left affected by the experiment. While the protagonist searches for a way to return his uncle (with the level-like objective of restarting several distinct power generators), he must traverse sections of the manor that have been affected by the physics of other dimensions. Naturally, the alternative variety of properties leads to a slew of mind-bending puzzles.
Pacing is usually the most difficult problem to tackle with puzzle games. A nice balance must be made between easing the player into the unique circumstances and presenting newer challenges at a steady pace to keep things from either staying boringly simple or becoming too difficult too fast (a forgiving checkpoint system also helps prevent frustration).
Although puzzle fatigue is likely to set in over the course of the game, Quantum Conundrum still achieves that nice difficulty balance as each seemingly different physics-based attribute introduces new mechanics to maintain the novel gameplay. While you can only have access to a single dimension at a time, the puzzles eventually require you to combine the special attributes of each to progress, satisfyingly building upon the techniques you have learned. As you learn the unique qualities to each dimension, you initially have no direct control over what physics you may use at a given time. This early restriction serves as a nice primer for the more freeform puzzles to come.
While Quadwrangle may be trapped in a pocket dimension, he is still able to communicate with you. He guides you to one of his inventions, a glove called the Inter-Dimensional Shift (IDS) Device that provides you with the power to control the physics properties of the four pervading dimensions. Access to any of the dimensions is dependent upon what IDS batteries (i.e. the individual dimensional powers) and how many IDS receptacles (slots for said batteries) are available. Sometimes you can only use a couple of the four dimensions and the limitation adds to the layer of challenge as you search for the right combination of physics to use to solve certain puzzles.
The Fluffy dimensions makes objects ten times lighter, while the Heavy dimension increases object density tenfold (the second one also affects the protagonist); while the boy can normally only lift light objects, the former dimension allows you to easily move fixed objects, while the latter helps prevent your death from dangerous obstacles like laser beams. The Slow Motion dimension reduces the speed of moving objects to a crawl, which allows you to, for example, hop onto a normally quick projectile object in order to safely traverse a fatal chasm. Finally, the Reverse dimension changes the direction of gravity (both of these physics do not affect the protagonist).
One of the key differences between Quantum Conundrum and Portal is that this relies as much on mental fortitude as it does on quick reflexes and expert timing. If you find first-person platforming imprecise and frustrating, then this game will do you absolutely no favors. Missing an exact jump makes for a lot of trial-and-error gameplay and second-guessing, while success after several failures offers as much relief as it does reward.
The art direction of Quantum Conundrum is great. Each cleverly laid out stage boasts a wide range of colors. The character designs (and the few characters themselves) are exaggerated, and the total product feels like a mix of Back to the Future and a solid Pixar film. Even though the cast is limited, the game is chock full of character (though the condescending humor is very much hit-or-miss). It is a nicely realized whimsical world.
Unfortunately, the game ends abruptly. Of course, the recently announced DLC (both releasing within the next few weeks) will further lengthen the adventure, but as it stands, the game concludes with a bittersweet cliffhanger of an ending. Despite its over-reliance on unreliable first-person platforming, Quantum Conundrum has a solid puzzle foundation.
GameDynamo's Score for Quantum Conundrum (X360)
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